Disabled people and mental health - why is the support so poor?
Errol Kerr is a student, editor and blogger, focusing on everything from politics to gaming. Through his blog Criptacular and on Twitter, he tackles discussions on mental health, physical health, disability and neurodiversity whilst constantly making sure to keep an eye on his own.
In the past three years I’ve been referred to multiple therapists for my mental health. I’ve walked away from all of them for the same reason: they can’t see past my disabilities.
Whenever I’ve been to therapists, I aim to go in to talk about feelings of anxiety and depression, both of which are incredibly prevalent in my life. For disability context, I’m autistic and have hypermobility syndrome - the latter of which causes a significant amount of pain, the former causing noticeable social communication difficulties.
The anecdote for my leaving therapy sessions is almost identical. I’ll book in an appointment to see my GP so I can discuss my mental health and ask about support. They refer me to a therapist before taking any “other actions”, even when I’ve indicated therapy has been unsuccessful before. After I’m booked in for therapy I make my way to the therapist to discuss my mental health.
The moment I disclose my disability and condition, the discussion veers entirely from my mental health concerns and focuses solely on these other external conditions. I attempt to explain that the issue is to do with other factors in my life that I want to talk about, but the professional always comes back to ‘difficulties’ I must face due to these other experiences. At these therapy sessions, any and every issue with my mental health is connected in some way to these factors.
I felt I was being told that my mental health issues were there because I was disabled.
Thing is, I quite enjoy being autistic and I manage my pain relatively well. The problems I face with my mental health have very little to do with these other experiences and I’ve stumped professionals more than once when I tell them that in reality, I’m managing these other experiences rather well.
After one of these therapy walk-outs I had a discussion with a friend of mine who is also disabled. They informed me they’d had an almost opposite experience with their GP, whereby they had been told they “can’t” have certain mental health difficulties, often because they’re disabled and “already have it bad enough”.
Sometimes it just feels like we can’t win - either we’re too physically disabled or neurologically different to be mentally ill, or if we are, it’s entirely because of that.
This is an important topic to recognise as there’s a large number of people with physical disabilities or neurodivergent conditions who also have mental health difficulties. It’s common knowledge and well-documented, but it’s something I fear that people don’t know how to recognise, don’t know how to acknowledge and are woefully unequipped for. It seems that, to everyone I’ve tried to speak to, correlation equals causation one hundred percent of the time.
It’s so important to recognise that support for disabled people with mental health difficulties is remarkably poor.
We’ve been taught to think of these things as different experiences – as one thing that can cause another, rather than individual experiences that can indeed impact each other but aren’t intrinsically linked. It feels like the likely issue with chemical imbalances in my brain were ignored in lieu of talking about how I can’t walk without an aid, or struggle talking and making eye contact simultaneously.
I’m planning on going back to my GP soon, as my mental health isn’t great at the moment. I plan to put these exact words in front of them, explain to them that whilst my body needs assistance, my mind needs some support that’s separate from that.
Whether rooting our mental health into our disability or denying its existence due to it, this attitude makes us feel lesser, inferior, and only leads to some of the most vulnerable people in society being ostracised and pushed away from support.
So, I want to start a discussion.
I want to have a conversation with disabled people who have sought mental health support, to start talking about the difficulties we’ve faced. I want to open up the floor to people who have been denied adequate mental health support by people who can’t see past physical or neurological conditions, chronic illnesses. I want to talk to people who have been let down by those who, when asked about the mental, couldn’t see past the physical.
Have you experienced similar issues? Have you had perfectly fine experiences seeking mental health support? Are you scared to seek out this support because of this issue? Let me know. We can’t make change by keeping silent.