Whether you were recently diagnosed with a disability or have been living with it for many years, or a lifetime there is a high incidence of mental health challenges or mental illness in the disabled population.

This purpose of this post is not to add another thing to the list of things that are wrong with you, but rather to explain some of the reasons many individuals with a disability also struggle with mental illness.

  1. Disability is unpredictable.  The onset of a disability is a shock to your physical body and learning about a Learning Disability or Psychological or Mental Health condition is a shock to our internal sense of self. This often involves feelings of grief, sadness, and confusion.  You have lost the comfortable sense of the person you were before or thought you were. You may not be sure who you are or how you will be with this new identity.  This can lead to Depression or Anxiety as you try to navigate your new life.
  2. Disability can be a constant state of change and adaptation.  Just when you seem to get a handle on one piece,  another one sprouts up.  It’s like you’re juggling balls and you just seem to get your rhythm and more balls are thrown at you.  If you have physical issues, day to day symptoms change and some days it can feel like someone throws in a chainsaw–and who wants to juggle chainsaws!  Especially if you need to deal with a health issue like needing surgery or treatment.  It can feel like you’re being forced to put your life on hold.  This uncertainty can cause you to experience depression or anxiety or other health issues.
  3. It sometimes feels as if your life is not your own.  You have goals, which sometimes need to be changed at a moments notice and the disappointment from feeling like you let people down or that they don’t understand can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which are linked to mental illness.
  4. If you have a hidden disability such as a Learning Disability, ADHD, or a hidden physical Disability such as chronic fatigue, Fibromyalgia or diabetes, you may need to “come out” about your condition in order to use accommodations such as Disability Parking.  The feeling that you have to explain or prove something as personal as a disability can make you feel angry, sad, not believed. Some even have to deal with anger and being yelled at for using a service needed by what they feel are the “real” disabled.  Dealing with that day in and day out can be exhausting and make you not want to go out. This isolation leads to a host of problems.
  5. Those with visible disabilities have to deal with staring, and stigma associated with having a disability. This stigma of a disability can lead to social isolation, discrimination and pity they never asked for or wanted.

These are just some of the reasons if you have a disability and mental health issues, you are not alone.  Although statistics on the percentage of individuals with disabilities who also experience a mental health diagnosis are hard to come by, it can range anywhere from 40-90%.

The important fact is if you have a disability and are experiencing any of the following symptoms which may be related to a mental health condition, help is available.

  • sadness, hopelessness or feeling like your life is not worth living
  • excessive loneliness, being afraid of going out, not having the energy to go out, staying in your home for more than a day or two, without contact with other people
  • fears and worry that won’t go away
  • repetitive thoughts our thoughts you can’t get out of your head
  • loss of friendships, family relationships or other relationship issues
  • fears of treatments for medical or health issues so you don’t let anyone know about your illness
  • any action you are taking to hurt yourself to cover physical or emotional pain
  • thoughts that you would be better off not being here

If you experience any of these symptoms, an mental illness may be the cause.  Help is available.  Don’t suffer alone.   Reach out to us at Emerging Adult Counseling as we specialize in working with clients who have a disability who are experiencing mental health challenges.

Having a disability doesn’t mean you have to deal with the challenges of mental illness as well.  There are struggles, for sure–but you can lead a satisfying life and manage if not eliminate many of your mental illness symptoms.

Sue Smith MA, LMFT has worked with clients with and without disabilities.  Having Spina Bifida since birth and working for nearly 30 years with young adults with and without disabilities gives Sue a unique perspective on the interaction between disability, the disability experience, and mental health challenges. Sue can be reached by visiting the Emerging Adult Counseling website at EmergingAdultCounselingTC.com or through her Facebook and Instagram pages.

Sue Smith

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  • Sue Smith says:

    Do you experience a Mental Health condi.ion on top of your Disability? How has this challenged you? How has it made you stronger?? Get support by sharing your experience. By the way… you don’t have to use your real name if you don’t want to disclose your disability or mental illness to the community.

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