Spring convocation is an exciting time, not just for grads but for their whole families as well. It’s a time for celebration of achievements earned, pride for the hard work invested and hope for a future filled with promise and adventure. Every parent dreams of that moment and saying “I’m so proud of you, son” or “congratulations daughter, you’ve made me so happy.”

For families of a young adult with a serious mental illness, however, it can be a time of sadness as we grieve the lost potential of someone whose illness has robbed them of motivation, cognitive function and many other traits valued by society. As schizophrenia and related disorders often strike in late teens or early twenties, many in the throes of the illness have had their college careers cut short, if they even started.

So instead of pride, families may feel ashamed of the lack of achievement from their progeny – or at least some discomfort when friends talk in glowing terms about their own children’s accomplishments. Not wanting to face a seemingly-insurmountable mountain of misconception, ignorance or judgement, we may just shrug and mumble something about our offspring being a late bloomer – and then quickly change the subject.

But regardless of what we tell others, we should feel no shame toward our children living with serious mental illness. Rather, we should acknowledge and appreciate the struggles they’ve been through. We can see what they’ve become and remember what they once were, but we’ll likely never know the full extent of the hell they were plunged into – and the demons they confronted there. We’ve witnessed the outward manifestations but can’t begin to imagine what untold horrors they experienced.

Tonight, as you try to understand what makes your daughter or son do the strange (to us) things they do, why they continue to make obviously (to us) wrong choices and why nothing they do makes sense (to us), take a moment to look at them and think of their accomplishments. They may not be on a stage in cap and gown in front of an adoring crowd, but they still deserve our congratulations.

So tonight, look at your son or daughter – or think of them if they’re not with you – and tell them how proud you are of them. It may not change their life, but it might just change yours.