Jason's View

Anxiety And Depression In The Disability Community

03 Feb 2020 by Jason Harris

Often, people in the disability community can experience anxiety and depression in their daily lives. This can be for a variety of reasons caused by one’s neurotype or by societal expectations towards them, or a mixture of the two. Mental health issues can co-exist with other disabilities. For example, Autistic people can have anxiety or depression due to either the way their brain is wired or the factors around how other people treat them.

Many of us, whether with disabilities or not, deal with anxiety and depression in our lives. We struggle with feelings whether we are “good enough” or question whether we can “fit in.” Even when things may appear to be going well to others, one can struggle inside with feelings of sadness, which can be very hard because you blame yourself that you shouldn’t feel bad - which makes you feel even worse. Societal factors can play a role as well in that you may feel the need to “fix “yourself and that it is not okay to be depressed.  This can be very damaging to your self image. There can be the message in our society that there’s something wrong if you’re not happy, so “Get Over It!”  We are told to work through our anxiety or depression, or the way to fix it is through medication.  That is not to say medicine cannot be helpful, but there are also other factors that take place.

Depression and anxiety and other mental health issues have some similar stigmas to those assigned to disability.  It is important to consider adding to the conversation of what constitutes a disability. Disability has been narrowly defined by the physical or intellectual. However, there are some who identify their mental health concerns as a part of the disability rights/justice community thereby broadening disability identity to include mental health. This, of course, is up to the individual to identify how they view themselves. 

People who live with anxiety and depression can also be identified as being part of the disability community. Within Disability Rights there is a growing movement of pride in one’s identity, whether physical or hidden disability or mental health issues. Mental health issues are being incorporated within the disability rights movement and seen as another integral part of who you are -  not to be negated, fixed or stigmatized.

Mad Pride is an example of a movement that aligns itself or can be a part of Disability Rights advocacy identified as a “mass movement of the users of mental health services, and that individuals with mental illness should be proud of their “madness.”  This does not only include depression and anxiety, but schizophrenia or bi-polar and other psychosocial disabilities.  It is noteworthy that mental health rights are also included in Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Amendments Act, and Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

For myself personally, I tend to live with anxiety and depression that can be spurred on by rumination. A lot of these are not only solely negative.  The fact that I ruminate can be helpful when I am thinking about ideas and not about myself. Anxiety can help push me to do further but can also make it hard to get work done. It may make sense to feel these things depending on what’s going on in your external life and recognizing these signals can help you navigate the course that may be right for you. 

Needless to say, these feelings of anxiety and depression need to be manageable along with a supportive environment. Anxiety and depression are a part of being human, and these feelings within the context of a supportive network can be a valuable asset rather than something negative to fix.

Jason Harris

Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University.  Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University.  He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View