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Friday, 20 May 2016

Mental Health & Disability

"People presume my disability has to do with being an amputee, but that's not the case; our insecurities are our disabilities, and I struggle with those as does everyone."
Aimee Mullins

It is Mental Health Awareness Week and as such I figured this was the perfect time to write this post I've been planning for a while. I've struggled - for lack of a better word - with mental health issues since I hit puberty. (Cue the Emo years.) I hate to use the word 'struggle' the same way I hate when it's said I 'suffer' from muscular dystrophy but the reality is it has been a struggle. I would go as far as to say that my bouts of depression, anxiety and particularly my crippling social anxiety have been far more debilitating than my physical disability has ever been. In most cases I'm able to take my progressive physical disability in my stride and adapt to the changes my body has gone through throughout the years but every day I have to work to overcome different anxieties and less often, depression. Yet people will constantly assume that my mental health issues are attributed to my physical disability. That I have these issues because I'm disabled and if my disability were to disappear tomorrow then my mental health issues would disappear along with it.


I'm depressed because I can't walk.
I'm anxious because I feel like I don't have control because of my disability.
I'm socially anxious because I think other's just see my wheelchair.

No. Mental health is not that straight forward and this line of thinking is dangerous because it means the real issues are left unacknowledged and therefore untreated. Now for some people with disabilities their mental health problems could very well be related to their physical disability. I'm very much only talking from my experience here. I myself have had times when the line has been blurred but I think you have to understand the difference between disability being the root cause and your anxiety or depression using it as a way to manifest itself. It's kind of like a chicken or the egg scenario.

Another thing I've noticed from my experience is that I've faced less of a stigma when it comes to mental health issues because it's almost expected of me. Countless times I've  had people commend me on how happy I seem and how little my disability seems to bother me because they perceive my disability so awful that they think they'd struggle to remain happy if faced with it. This is a stigma in itself but surrounding disability rather than mental health. However, that's a topic for another post.

I feel like this distinction between where my disability ends and my mental health issues begin is important because I don't want me or others to be pigeon-holed. I don't want to perpetuate the idea that to be disabled means to be unhappy. I'm not saying that to shame anybody who's mental health issues and disability are linked, There is no shame. I'm saying it for those that struggle to have their mental health issues treated properly because people - even professionals - can't fathom that they can be separate entities and need to be treated as such.

6 comments:

  1. This was such an interesting read! I can totally understand that it must be frustrating when people assume that your mental health issues must be related to your disability. Of course, I cannot totally understand how it is to be physically disabled, but I'm pretty sure that many people can still be as happy as anybody. In the end, this is something you have to accept and accepting it often helps to make you feel good again. And like you said, mental health can be related to so many different things. It's so important that people understand that mental health is more complex than it can seem, because it doesn't help the concerned to play down this disease.
    Patti Shifting Tales

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    1. "In the end, this is something you have to accept and accepting it often helps to make you feel good again."

      Praise be, an able-bodied person has the answer! Are you the prophet? I suppose disabled people with mental health issues would be fine if they just *accepted* their physical disability.

      ...Re-read Sara's post, in particular this extract:

      "Mental health is not that straight forward and this line of thinking is dangerous because it means the real issues are left unacknowledged and therefore untreated. Now for some people with disabilities their mental health problems could very well be related to their physical disability.

      I myself have had times when the line has been blurred but I think you have to understand >>the difference between disability being the root cause and your anxiety or depression using it as a way to manifest itself.<< It's kind of like a chicken or the egg scenario."

      Thank you for the post, Sara.

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    2. I am sorry that you apparently misunderstood what I wanted to say. I wasn't saying that this is the answer, I was just saying that disabled people can obviously accept it. I wanted to say that being disabled doesn't necessarily mean that you dwell on it all the time. Or does it? Of course, I am not physically disabled, I am one of those with invisible disabilities, so of course I cannot fully understand this, which I also said.
      I actually only agreed with Sara, that mental health does not mean it has to be linked to the disability. Mental health is complex. Maybe I did express myself not well enough, but I did definitely not preach anything here. I was saying that accepting can often be the first step towards feeling better. This is what helped me personally. I'm sorry if you disagree.

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  2. A great post here Sara, it's always difficult to talk/write about mental health but I feel in the last few years that the attitudes towards mental health - particularly anxiety and depression - are changing. Maybe because these have been felt by so many that the stigma is slowly being chipped away, and posts like these are always a step in that direction, and I definitely agree that these issues are so complex and tangled up in other things. Thank you for writing this and if you ever need someone to talk to, I'm always here. :) - Tasha

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  3. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts, as always.
    Especial thanks for "coming out" and acknowledging that you have had mental health issues. There can never be too many people willing to do that.

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  4. we will be an advocate for health care programs based on "free-enterprise" principles and totally devoid of ANY government intervention, pain

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