How Disabilities and Mental Health Needs Can Overlap

Two people speaking in talk therapy

Mental illness is a force that exists in the lives of many individuals with disabilities that often goes overlooked. It’s easy to shift most of our attention to supporting an individual’s disability-related needs directly and overlook others. But for many people, mental illness is a disability-related need. 

Whether it stems from disability-causing conditions or causes disability on its own, mental illness can significantly impact a person’s daily life. That means that letting it fade into the background simply isn’t an option.


How Disabilities May Impact Mental Health: The Facts

Individuals with disabilities are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health needs. Many factors contribute to this fact; in some cases, the source of a disability can also be behind these challenges. However, in others, the unique obstacles persons with disabilities face may impact their mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults with disabilities report experiencing “frequent mental distress” around five times as often as adults without disabilities. 

What’s more, recent figures suggest that those with cognitive and mobility disabilities are the most likely to report mental distress. Those from historically underrepresented groups or living below the federal poverty line are especially likely to be impacted.

It goes without saying that life with one or more disabilities can be full of ups and downs. Fighting to feel accepted, seen, and heard can be draining. Likewise, individuals with disabilities may be more likely to face challenges like social isolation and discrimination. 

Understanding this truth – that many factors predispose individuals with disabilities to mental illness – is essential. Those within the disability community need increased access to mental health resources. Meeting persons with disabilities where they are means considering mental health needs.

Mental Health-Related Disabilities Matter, Too

While living with a disability(ies) can be a risk factor for mental illness, the reverse may also be true. Some mental health disorders create symptoms that significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function and care for themselves. In these cases, mental illness can be considered a disability of its own.

Conditions that Qualify as Disabilities

What is and isn’t considered a “disability” from a legal standpoint can vary. As research into mental illnesses evolves, so does our understanding of how these conditions affect daily life. Researchers currently view a few psychiatric disorders as sources of disability. As a result, those diagnosed with these conditions may be eligible for disability resources and support at work, school, etc:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar affective disorder
  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, social anxiety, etc.)
  • Major depressive disorder (depression)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Dementia

Studies reveal that these conditions can be considered “disabling” due to their effect on activities of daily living and overall quality of life. This all goes to show that mental illness can be inseparable from disability. 

Even when mental illness isn’t the main cause of an individual’s disability, it can certainly contribute to the obstacles they face. And that means treating mental health is vital to supporting those with disabilities.

The Importance of Tailored Support

Regardless of your relationship with mental health, if you live with one or more disabilities, you deserve support that’s unique to you. Especially when mental health needs are present, accessing disability-aware care can be the difference between feeling stuck and thriving. 

Mental health disorders are highly treatable, no matter where they stem from. Even if there may not be a “cure” for the challenges you face, there are resources that can help. After all, the goal of care in this context shouldn’t be to “cure” or “fix” someone but to give them the tools they need to succeed. 

For California residents, tailored support and resources can be found through the state’s Self-Determination Program (SDP). The SDP is designed to connect individuals with disabilities to the information, services, and support they need to achieve their goals. Above all else, the SDP focuses on one thing: you

At NeuroNav, our mission is to help individuals with disabilities and their families navigate the SDP successfully. We’re also committed to being a hub for quality information and resources. 

Our team is eager to help you learn about your options for support. We invite you to reach out to learn more about our services. Or, you can book a free consultation to get more insight into how we can help you.

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