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Mental Health Care for Individuals with Physical Disabilities

1 in 5 Australians suffer from some kind of disability (over 4.4 million people, about 18% of the people in Australia). Alarming, right? To make matters worse, disabled individuals show signs of mental distress five times as often as non-disabled individuals. 

Are you suffering from any kind of physical disability? If so, you must already be aware of the unique set of challenges you are experiencing and how they are affecting your emotional and mental well-being. Although the specific nature of the disability varies, the common thread between you and everyone with some kind of physical disability is the potential for frustration, social isolation, and feelings of extreme loss. More often than not, your physical disability might be impeding your chances of achieving your dream and living your best life. Fortunately, general practitioners (GPs) at Healthcare on Collins Medical Clinic are well-positioned to play a critical role in supporting the mental and emotional well-being of individuals battling physical disabilities. 

The Link Between Physical and Mental Health 

It is well-established that there is a relationship between mental and physical health. Limited mobility, chronic pain, and dependence on others can lead to feelings of irritation, anxiety, stress, depression, and low esteem. These issues are further exacerbated due to environmental barriers and social stigma. 

Some common mental health challenges faced by those with physical disabilities are:

  • Anxiety - Stress and anxiety are a major issue fueled by the inability to independently drive around the neighbourhood, shop for groceries, or commute to work. It is also caused due to concerns about financial security, daily living, and healthcare management. 
  • Depression - Depression is a major concern and highly prevalent among individuals with physical disabilities. Factors like social isolation, chronic pain, and limited opportunities contribute to feelings of frustration, worthlessness, and hopelessness. 
  • Lack of self-esteem - As the individual is not able to perform daily functions, it erodes their self-esteem. They start losing confidence in themselves and question their self-worth. Overcoming low self-esteem is an incredible challenge to overcome, and it usually requires outside help. 
  • Difficulties establishing and maintaining relationships - Physical limitations make it a challenge to interact with people socially. This results in difficulties in establishing and maintaining relationships. This can further worsen one’s mental health. 

How can GPs support Emotional and Mental Well-Being?

General practitioners are usually the first point of contact for those suffering from physical disabilities. GPs can make a significant difference by incorporating mental health screening and support into routine care. Some of the key strategies are:

  • Thorough evaluation - It is critical that GPs have a holistic approach when caring for individuals with physical disabilities. Not only do they require rehabilitation but also all the support and help they can get to improve your mental and emotional health. Hence, GPs include mental health screening, along with physical assessment to offer comprehensive care. 
  • Open and clear communication - GPs must create a safe, judgement-free space for open and clear communication regarding mental and emotional health concerns. They must normalise discussions relating to anxiety, stress, depression, social isolation, and other difficulties that one might be facing due to their disability.
  • Psychoeducation - It is crucial to offer information about the connection between mental and physical health. GPs must clearly explain how physical limitations impact mental health and well-being. This will help to prepare the disabled person for what’s to come next. 

Helpful Strategies for Promoting Well-Being and Resilience 

Along with addressing mental health challenges, general practitioners can also play a key role in promoting resilience and well-being. The common strategies implemented by GPs are:

  • Social support groups - Patients are connected with disability advocacy organisations and support groups so they can be around people going through the same challenges of life. This fosters a sense of belonging, and also, hearing how others are trying to cope with challenges, one can have the confidence to do the same. 
  • Encouragement and empowerment - GPs can help individuals identify their capabilities and strengths and look beyond their physical disability. They can ask their patients to focus on the things they can do instead of what they can’t. Additionally, they can encourage their patients to explore adaptive strategies and technologies to manage daily activities. 
  • Managing the pain - Offering support and discussing strategies to cope with pain can make a huge difference in the lives of those suffering from physical disabilities. 

In addition to GPs supporting and encouraging their patients to overcome their physical disabilities and embrace life as it is, disabled people can also benefit from the support of their near and dear ones. It would also help if they are educated about the various community resources available for individuals with disabilities, such as employment assistance, accessible transportation options, and independent living programs. 

The Bottom Line 

Challenges associated with physical disabilities go beyond the physical and significantly impact one’s mental and emotional well-being. This is where GPs play a critical role in supporting their rehabilitation journey while taking care of their mental and emotional well-being. 

Have you spoken to your general practitioner yet? Find out how your GP can support you in your journey of overcoming the disability and living a normal life. 

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