When talking about people with disabilities the focus is often put on the disabilities themselves, but what is often overlooked are the mental health concerns that often exist alongside the disabilities. Studies show that those with disabilities experience frequent mental distress nearly five times as often as adults without disabilities. Over 30% of those with disabilities report at least fourteen out of the last thirty days as being mentally unhealthy days. The mental health strain on people with disabilities can come from feelings of isolation, exclusion, financial insecurity, and a lack of personal and professional fulfillment, as well as other distresses relating to specific disabilities. All of these stressors are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the main causes of mental distress in all populations comes from financial insecurity, which is an issue that is prevalent among people with disabilities. On top of the exorbitant medical costs that come with living with a disability, the average income of those with disabilities is only about a third of the income of someone without a disability, indeed only 17.9% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to 61% of non-disabled people, 29% of employees with disabilities only work part time. This is a result of lack of access to education, reliable transportation, discrimination, and a government aid system that often penalizes earned income over a very limited level.
Studies show that employment is often heavily linked to self esteem, self worth, and an overall feeling of purpose. Unemployment can lead to rates of depression that are twice as high as the general population. This rate rises to four times as high in the long term unemployed. With the help of therapy, purpose can be discovered far beyond the confinements of employment. Finding out what in life gives you self value can have extreme effects on your quality of life. Other ways to find purpose other than employment can include volunteering, accessible hobbies, and being a positive presence in your family/community.
Often the sole focus on the treatment of the disability alone can overshadow the mental health concerns of those living with disabilities. The medical and mental health fields can do more to integrate the treatment of physical and mental wellbeing of those with disabilities. More can be done to increase access to both financial and physical freedom as well as growing awareness for the need for greater mental healthcare. This feeling of having no purpose due to unemployment as well as feelings of isolation and exclusion, among other distresses, are areas that counseling can help to alleviate through exploration, collaboration, and education.
Wide range of resources including links and information for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance for those who are unable to work due to a disability) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income for those who can only work part time) Able Savings Accounts (allows for people with SSDI or SSI have less limits on their saving amount) Medicare, and Service Animal Support and much more.
Advocacy organization for people with disabilities.
Government services that include Vocational Rehabilitation, Education resources, independent living assistance, and much more.
Programs to help those with disabilities gain greater access to transportation through reduced cost or in some cases free train and bus transportation through the CTA.
This final resource is a fun one. Qualifying people with disabilities can obtain a free lifetime pass to all national parks. Access to nature can have positive effects on mental health, decreasing negative emotions such as stress and anxiety and promoting more positive feelings. Providing this for people with disabilities increases accessibility to those who might not have been able to visit before.
This month’s blog post was written by Sam Stewart, BFA.