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“Don’t Keep Telling Me I’m Sick. Just Hear Me.”

Dr Xavier Amador

Dr. Xavier Amador spent a good part of his youth trying to convince his older brother that he (the brother) was mentally ill. He did not succeed—his brother denied any illness, despite hearing voices and believing that their mother had evil powers—and the two became estranged for years. But when he became a clinical psychologist, Amador also gained an understanding of why his efforts had gone so tragically wrong, and how he might regain a place in his brother’s life. 

In this wonderful 18-minute TED talk, he sketches his own journey, and introduces a vital framework for how to relate to a Loved One suffering from anosognosia, a common aspect of mental illness in which the affected person is unaware, or cannot perceive, their own condition. 

A striking (and frankly unsettling) moment comes in the middle of the talk, when Amador confronts an audience volunteer with the suggestion that he’s never actually been married to the person he calls his wife, and doesn’t live in what he thinks is his house. He asks: “Are you ready to accept that, since I’m insisting it’s true?” The point, of course, is that persons suffering from schizophrenia and other conditions are pressured to accept such assertions all the time, and have no more ability to believe “the impossible” than anyone else does. 

Instead of that sort of pressure, Amador advises us “to create respectful, non-judgmental relationships. These, the  research shows, result in acceptance of treatment—for an illness the person doesn’t believe they have.” 

I’ll leave it to Amador to break this down into steps. Watch this talk for the compassion and the wisdom. There’s so often a better way than just hammering a message home.  

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