Effects of Physical Disability on Mental Health
One in four adults in the United States reportedly has a disability. Many people may be faced with a disability during their lifetime. A disability limits how a person functions and accomplishes everyday tasks. Physical limitations vary between individuals and may include difficulty walking, impaired seeing or hearing, and problems climbing stairs. Cognitive impairments may include difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering. It is common for adults with disabilities to have to deal with frequent mental health issues. Statistics indicate that individuals with disabilities are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than adults who do not have disabilities.
Physical Disabilities and Mental Health
The passage of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 was meant to help reduce some of the effects of disability. Yet, people with either a mental or physical disability still face discrimination. They also continue to deal with unequal access to employment, medical care, housing, and insurance coverage.
To compound the issue, many individuals with disabilities deal with physical challenges and limitations, including extreme pain or limited mobility. Social activity is often limited since it is difficult to attend or participate in recreational activities and social events. Managing obstacles such as these may take a toll on an individual’s mental health. Whether a person has had a disability from birth or it occurred later in life, it increases the risk factors for many mental health conditions. Adding to the mix are factors such as abuse from caregivers, challenges with achieving quality of life, and loneliness. Also, not having adequate access to proper mental health care increases the risk of mental illness.
Factors Connecting Physical Disabilities and Mental Health
Many times, the fact that a disability exists isn’t the source of stress. But there are many factors that make a person with a disability more prone to developing mental health issues. Some of the most common factors that connect a physical disability and mental health include:
- Loneliness and Isolation. Human beings are social by nature. Individuals who deal with severe disabilities may not have the means to get out and participate in social activities. Many facilities are not truly accessible, limiting access to individuals with disabilities. Others are often isolated by society’s myths about what it means to have a mental and physical disability. When a person is left isolated and alone for long periods of time, it puts them at a higher risk of complications associated with mental health issues.
- Social Discrimination. Society plays an important role in every person’s life, including those with disabilities. Suicidal tendencies and thoughts in persons who have a disability are not always due to physical limitations. Instead, they are often due to the way society treats them. A person with visible disabilities may face discrimination when they are in public areas. In general, the public has a “different attitude” toward people with disabilities. This may push them toward depression which could be a life-threatening situation.
- Barriers to Mental Health Care. Persons with disabilities often lack effective and accessible mental health services. Infrastructure may limit access, lack of caregiver support, or stigmatization may restrict individuals from seeking the help they need. Some mental health professionals have stigmatizing beliefs about disability.
- Lack of Integrated Care. Painful disabilities may require frequent medical care. One of the effects of disability may be painful medical treatments are painful leading to an individual suffering traumatic stress. If they are hospitalized for long periods, they may lack social connection and experience bouts of loneliness. People who are focused on physical comfort and alleviating pain tend to ignore mental health issues. Since the medical sector lacks proper integration, individuals with disabilities lack the holistic care they need.
- Lack of Communication. A mental health professional needs to be able to communicate with the individual who needs help. Some types of disabilities may affect a person’s ability to communicate effectively. This significantly reduces their chances of getting proper mental health help. Sometimes, even a person who has no limitations with communicating can have difficulty expressing their need for help. Physical disability and mental health issues are a dangerous combination that can further isolate a person making their situation even more dangerous.
Helping People with Disabilities Seek Out Mental Health Care
Mental health is an important issue for every person, including individuals with disabilities. A person with a disability may need to overcome the stigma surrounding their disability so they feel like they can get the mental health care they need. A person may need to self-advocate. Persons with disabilities should be treated with the same dignity as a person without a disability. Caregivers, family members and friends can help reduce feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and isolation by helping those they love to feel valued. They may also be instrumental in helping others seek out the mental health care they need to thrive.