Friday, 7 August 2015

Depression Isn't the Only Mental Health Issue by Renée Cormier

The most often overlooked demographic in mental health circles may surprise you. As mental illness slowly becomes de-stigmatized, those who live with disability still struggle to find the support they need. According to some studies, more than half of people with disabilities also live with mental health issues. It's easy to understand how depression could affect someone with a permanent disability, but make no mistake about it; depression is not the only mental health issue we are talking about.

People who live with either intellectual or physical disabilities are susceptible to all the same mental health problems as everyone else in the free world, only the risk is actually higher for people with disabilities. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians will experience some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. Since this statistic does not exclude people with disabilities, it is safe to assume that those who are not living with disability are much less likely to experience mental health problems.

The challenges faced by people with disabilities needing support for mental health problems are considerable. It is actually quite difficult for people with physical disabilities to find accessible group therapy, yet the need for social support among the physically challenged is critical to their well-being. Sarah Evans, a mentor and mental health advocate at AbilityOnline, once told me about an experience she had trying to join a group therapy session. She was told by the organizers that she could not participate because her presence made others uncomfortable. Sarah lives with cerebral palsy which affects her speech and mobility. You would think that people who are so interested in helping others and who passionately battle to de-stigmatize mental illness would be more compassionate and inclusive.

Many people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities also suffer from mental illness. Who helps them? Virtually nobody. It seems the professional community considers the mental health needs of the intellectually challenged impossible to address.

I contend that nothing is impossible where desire to change exists. Making the professional community aware of the mental health needs of people with physical and intellectual disabilities is the first step. Advocacy is important. Aligning with organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association, Healthy Minds Canada and CAMH is also important. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when you are spreading the word through social media about mental health awareness, please put a plug in for those who live with disabilities. Their mental health is important, too.

Renée Cormier is a Public Relations professional who works with She is passionate about helping people who live with disabilities find the social support they need in order to thrive and live meaningful lives.

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