The Relationship Between Mental Health and Disability

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Disability

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s appropriate to take the time to explore the relationship between mental health and disability as there is a huge correlation between the two. Mental health can impact all individuals but those with disabilities have reported having distressed mental health five times more than adults without disabilities.

Prevalence of Mental Health Distress with Disabilities:

Frequent mental distress is defined as having 14 or more mentally unhealthy days within a 30 day period. A 2018 study by the CDC found that 32.9% of people with disabilities reported having mental distress, which was 4.7 times greater than adults without disabilities, whose reported findings were at 7.2%. 55% of adults with both physical and intellectual disabilities reported having mental distress, making them the highest at-risk group reported in this study.

Causes of Mental Health Struggles in Those with Disabilities:

Mental health issues can stem from a myriad of social, physical, and emotional factors. Many individuals with disabilities report feeling ostracized by society because people often devalue and limit the potential of individuals with disabilities. This practice is referred to as ableism, where non-disabled individuals knowingly or unknowingly say or do things that make disabled people feel inferior to them.

Other reported issues were that many mental health practitioners view disability as the issue to be fixed and believe that if the individual could fix their disability they would not have mental distress. Therefore they don’t take the person’s mental health concerns seriously.

Poverty is another risk factor for individuals with disabilities and their mental health. It’s found that less than 20% of people with disabilities are employed members of the workforce. Individuals with disabilities are twice as likely to experience poverty, or be homeless. People with disabilities make up 40% of the homeless population. It is easy to conclude that those with disabilities would have increased mental distress when a large portion of this population is unable to meet their most critical basic needs.

How You Can Make a Difference:

If you want to make a difference in improving the mental health of disabled individuals, there is plenty of work to be done in your own circles and communities. Small things you can do that make a huge difference are:

  • Use inclusive language when speaking about individuals with disabilities.
  • Learn about people with invisible disabilities and how you can be their ally.
  • Look disabled people in the eyes and speak to them like they’re your peers (because they are!)
  • Don’t patronize people with disabilities.
  • Smile and talk to disabled employees when you are grocery shopping or running errands around town.
  • Be a consistent caregiver for someone with a disability. Caregiver turnover is high and for people with disabilities and this can add to their mental distress. Being a consistent person in their life can help reduce these challenges.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 10). Frequent mental distress among adults, by disability status, disability type, and selected characteristics – United States, 2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from here.

Diament, M. (2009, July 20). More than two-fifths of homeless have disabilities. Disability Scoop. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from here.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). People with disabilities. NAMI. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from here.

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