The Mental Health of People with Disabilities

The CDC reports that in the United States, 1 in 4 adults, or 61 million people have a disability. A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).

The impact on mental health for people with disabilities

  • Having a disability can severely impact a person’s quality of life due to physical limitations and/or mental health factors. While two people can have the same disability, the experiences both individuals encounter can be vastly different. For example, two people can be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and one person may experience difficulty with walking while another person may experience difficulty with vision. 
  • Physical or mental health limitations aren’t ‘the only challenge that people with disabilities face. Due to lack of education or miseducation regarding disabilities and stereotypes, people who are diagnosed with a disability are often stigmatized which can impact their ability to qualify for a certain job, participate in specific activists and/or be accepted within certain social groups. It is not uncommon for people with a disability to feel like an outsider or be perceived by others as an outsider. To be seen as different due to having a disability can often lead to symptoms of depression due to social isolation and feelings of inadequacy.
  • Individuals that live with a disability may also have to adapt to a new normal which can cause grieving the loss of their previous lifestyle which can trigger mental and emotional distress. These lifestyle changes can include modifications such as the implementation of a ramp to enter and/or leave the home, a decrease in workload capacity which can result in a decrease in pay and the loss of engaging in previous phs
  • A recent study found that adults with disabilities report experiencing more mental distress than those without disabilities. In 2018, an estimated 17.4 million (32. 9%) adults with disabilities experienced frequent mental distress defined as 14 or more reported mentally unhealthy days in the past 30 days.
  • The mental and emotional strain of trying to navigate life with a disability can be overwhelming often resulting in unhealthy coping skills such as abusing substances to cope with the challenges associated with having a disability which can lead to addiction and/or co-occurring disorders.
  • The center for addiction states that people with disabilities are substantially more likely to suffer from are substance use disorders (SUD) than the general population and are less likely to receive treatment. People with physical disabilities experience SUDs at 2 to 4 times the rate of the general population. 

While individuals diagnosed with a disability are at a higher risk for experiencing mental health challenges, there is hope and help, though it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a comprehensive list of the best mental health apps that can be utilized for support. Additionally, below are some tips to manage your mental health if you are living with a disability. 

3 Tips to manage your mental health while living with a disability:

1.     Speak with a therapist

Speaking with a therapist can help with grieving the loss of a previous lifestyle and having to adapt to a new norm as a result of the limitations that having a disability may cause. Speaking with a therapist can also help with learning new coping skills to prevent engaging in unhealthy behaviors as a way of coping which can further exacerbate the symptoms associated with having a disability.

2.     Find support groups 

Having a network of support is essential to working through the changes and feelings such as loneliness, inadequacy and other emotions that are triggered after being diagnosed with a disability. Having support is essential to enhancing quality of life and it can also help as a way to connect with other people who can understand what it’s like to live with a disability.

3.     Keep a trigger journal

While there may not be a definite answer to what may cause the onset of a disability, there are factors that can exacerbate the symptoms or cause flare ups such as poor nutrition, stress and other factors. Keeping a journal can help you identify patterns which can help with prevention planning and creating a lifestyle program that will help you function at your best while living with a disability.


While having a disability can be life altering, it doesn’t have to be a life sentence for a depressing life. There are ways to cope with the challenges of having disability to help enhance quality of life. 

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Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
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