5 factors that cause mental health problems in people with physical disabilities

Wednesday 10th October 2018 was World Mental Health Day. Currently 450 million people worldwide suffer with mental health problems and it has been known to effect famous people too including Gary Lightbody, Ant McPartlin, Robin Williams and Chester Bennington.

Image of Earth - World Mental Health day 2018

To mark the occasion and raise awareness, I want to share factors that cause mental health in people with physical disabilities. In the UK, 30% of people with a physical disability also have a mental health problem. I became depressed in 2016 and sourced CBT therapy through my doctor. Living with my physical disabilities will continue to be challenging, but I have learnt skills to deal with them.

Below are the 5 most common factors that cause mental health problems for people with physical disabilities:

1. Social Isolation

Many people with a physical disability feel socially isolated because they cannot leave their homes or access sociable opportunities. For instance, as a child I couldn’t access activities such as sports clubs or scout groups like most children did. I also couldn’t visit friends because I couldn’t access their homes. At university, there were no suitable societies for me to join and I was unable to attend student nights out, which contributed to me having no friendships. However on one occasion, I began talking to a girl on my course and asked if she was going to a comedy night that was happening and whether she would like to go with me. She agreed and I turned up at the student union and waited for her. Thirty minutes or so later, I got a text from her saying she was stood by the stage, already drunk, and couldn’t meet me. I specifically told her I couldn’t get to the front and could she meet me at a table but she had no intention of meeting me and never spoke to me again. A couple of years later, I was sat in the classroom and overheard other students discussing a get together with the whole class one night. Nobody bothered to consider inviting me and I was basically invisible to them all. Even if I was unable to attend, it would have been nice for them to think of me at the time. Because of this, my mood was extremely low throughout university and wasn’t the experience I hoped it would have been. The only exception was I did get to attend a theatre company for two years where I got to socialise and interact with other members and I am now currently a member of a new theatre group for adults.

2. Care Support

The greatest challenge for people with physical disabilities is relying on care support. It can be frustrating having to constantly ask for help, becomes stressful when carers do not understand or make mistakes and even feel like a burden on friends and family. Personally, I require 24-hour care. I need support with all aspects of my life. I have experienced very poor care in my time and this has had a large impact on my mental health, to the point I was having suicidal thoughts last year. Without good quality support, I have no life. Many people who become carers do not understand the severity of my condition and the amount of support I need. Many of them are un-safe to do my personal care and others not committed to support me with social activities; which is a result of social isolation.

3. Employment

Securing a job is another difficult task people with physical disabilities have to face. For many of us, we have the skills, knowledge and experience to work but there are still many barriers facing us when trying to get employed. In some cases, employers are still not aware that there is support to help people with disabilities access the workplace. In my experience, there are employers willing to take on disabled people but because I’m a graduate, I’m still trying to secure my first paid position. I’ve taken on plenty of voluntary and freelance roles, but unlike most teenagers, I never have been able to get an simple job in a shop or restaurant. I feel like because I’ve never had paid employment, I still don’t have enough experience to secure employment. In addition, due to personal commitments, I cannot move locations, meaning I am limited to where in the country I can work. I do say to recruiters and employers I’m happy to be flexible and commute but unfortunately the job hunt still continues. I’m determined not to give in, but each time I’m rejected, I feel less confident in myself and have negative thoughts that I’m not good enough for employment and that I may end up living on benefits for the rest of my life.

4. Housing

Finding accessible accommodation is a stressful time for any disabled person. The fact is, there is not enough accessible homes in the country. It took me a year to find my current house and another six months to get the adaptations completed. It shouldn’t be like this. I believe there should be a requirement that every home has the minimal amount of accessible features required in every household. Plus the way the council housing system works, I had very limited choice on where I could live because you need a local connection to a particular area, meaning I’ve ended up living in a small town with not much to do other than go to the supermarket, poor public transport connections and away from my friends.

5. Discrimination

Disability discrimination falls in the above factors and much more. The way society treats people with physical disabilities and the barriers they have to overcome on a daily basis can have a devastating effect on their mental health. Whether it’s being bullied at school, unable to access public places or transport, being patronised, not being provided the right support or equipment and being discluded from events, can lead to people with physical disabilities having stress, anxiety and depression. Inclusion, empathy and understanding is vital for physically disabled people with a mental health problem. Society needs to acknowledge that people who use wheelchairs, have mobility aids, chronic illnesses and sensory impairements all have feelings too and their mental health is just as important, if not more, than their physical health.

Do you, or someone you know, have a physical disability and suffer with mental health problems? Please share your stories in the comments box or on social media. Let’s fight this together!

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