When Physical Disabilities Prevent Mental Health Help

Life with a disability of any kind, whether physical or intellectual, impacts a person’s overall wellbeing. Mental health is a significant part of the wellbeing that is affected. Physical disabilities are defined as conditions that limit bodily functions in some way. Intellectual disabilities are considered significant impairments of adaptive and cognitive functions. Physical disabilities are far more common, but both make life challenging when it comes to mental health.

Disabilities and Depression or Anxiety

Several risk factors can increase someone’s potential for depression; living with some type of disability is among these. One study of younger individuals who had had mild strokes found them to have much higher proportions of difficulties with depression and anxiety than those who had not experienced strokes. Life with a chronic disorder also causes the risk of depression to rise. Traumatic brain injury has also been linked often to increased depression risks.

Ties Between Disability and Depression

Loss of Life Direction

When a disability comes on someone later in life, that person can find life to be totally derailed from a previous vision, goal, or purpose. An airline pilot with seriously impaired vision is one example, as that pilot would no longer be suited to fly aircraft. A devastating loss such as this can easily lead to depression, particularly if that career was the pilot’s only desired career. Many disabled individuals were once primary breadwinners and, following the disability, find themselves incapable of providing for their families. It is far from unusual in such circumstances to feel a lingering frustration or helplessness that is a foundation for depression.

Decrease in Self-Esteem

Becoming disabled impacts how you feel about and perceive yourself. Your place in society is no longer as assured as it was before you were disabled. Individuals with traumatic brain injuries were studied and shown to have lower self-esteem levels and higher depression levels than healthy individuals. Many disabled persons lack confidence in their bodily autonomy and ability to adequately manage their lives. The loss of independence can be a severe blow to self-esteem.

Social Isolation

Loneliness can affect anyone from any walk of life, but it can be an especial challenge for those living with disabilities. A survey of UK residents with disabilities showed that a quarter felt lonely on a daily basis. When living in a wheelchair, for example, a social function is a series of challenges. You must get to and from the venue, into and out of the venue itself, and you might require assistance while inside the venue. The list is ongoing. You may also decide that you will feel like a burden and wish to avoid this, therefore choosing to stay in.


Disability can make finding a job extremely difficult. This leaves a significant void in the lives of those living with disabilities. Work is a large part of how people perceive themselves. The longer someone is unemployed, the greater the hopelessness and lack of self-worth they may feel. It is unsurprising that a lack of employment brings people closer to depression or anxiety.

Financial Difficulty

Unemployment is a problem in and of itself, but it leads to another: financial problems. For those with disabilities, the cost of life may also be higher. Equipment, medications, and regular visits to health professionals are expensive. Some people with disabilities also need assistance with one or more daily life tasks. Such home health aides do not work for free.

Accepting a Disability

When a disability comes later in life, getting adjusted can be incredibly difficult. There are phases that researchers have found people can go through when accepting a new disability in their lives; they are similar to the stages of grief. They are shock, anxiousness, denial, depression, internalized and then externalized anger, acknowledgment, and finally, adjustment.


Someone who feels discriminated against due to their disability will likely suffer a large impact on their mental health. This often starts young, with bullying. Discrimination occurs at every age, though. Some people even find it difficult to receive mental health treatment due to their disabilities.

Mental Health Access

Not every hospital’s mental health facility is capable of caring for people with every type of disability. While it can be expensive to cover all the bases, this leads to discrimination against some of the most vulnerable people when it comes to depression. Suicidal ideation is more likely in people with disabilities. This can be due to abuse, isolation, stressors linked to poverty, and other causes. One study even discovered that people see suicidality as significantly more acceptable among people with disabilities.


Live On is a web-based movement led by disabled individuals. It reaches out to people who have disabilities and tackles such misconceptions by displaying that people who are disabled can lead lives that are happy and fulfilling. People connect using the hashtag #LiveOn to share their stories.

Trouble Getting Help

The senior specialist at the National Disability Rights Network, Ian Watlington, has spoken with doctors about automatically screening persons with a disability for depression at certain points. This is to ensure they get the necessary treatment early on. Watlington describes the isolation as an epidemic. Accessibility issues can start with transportation to the doctor’s office in the first place. Older buildings with narrow doors and no elevators are problematic as well.

Many people with disabilities have problems that are not only far from unique, they already have solutions. The problem is connecting the people to the solutions. A nurse’s call button is one example. Not everyone has the mobility or strength to press such a button. Instead, there are alternatives, like a device that uses sips or puffs to let patients use their lips to call nurses. This needs to be set up perfectly, however, and not all psychiatric hospitals have nurses trained in such devices, if the devices are even at hand. In the end, hospitals need better equipment and better-trained staff to be fully accessible to all, including the disabled.