“Jason’s View”: Anxiety and Depression in the Disability Community

February 13, 2020

by Jason Harris

Disabled people often experience anxiety and depression in their daily lives. This happens for a variety of reasons, but most often it is caused by one’s neurodiversity, societal expectations, or a mixture of the two. Mental health issues can co-exist with other disabilities as well. For example, Autistic people can have anxiety or depression due to either the way their brain is wired or the way other people treat them.

We often struggle with feelings such as whether or not we are “good enough” or question whether or not we can “fit in.” Even when things may appear to be going well, one can struggle inside with feelings of sadness, which can be very hard, since you may blame yourself for feeling this way, making you feel even worse. Societal pressures can play a role as well, feeling as though you need to “fix“ yourself, or that it is not okay to be depressed.  This can be very damaging to your self-image. Often the message from society is 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 take medication for a quick fix.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues have some similar stigmas to those assigned to disability, so it is important to consider adding mental health to the conversation of what constitutes a disability. Disability is often narrowly defined as physical or intellectual. However, there are some who identify their mental health concerns as a part of their disability, thereby broadening disability identity to include mental health. This means that people who live with anxiety and depression can also be identified as being part of the disability community. This, of course, varies by individuals as to how they identify or how they may view themselves.

Within the disability community, 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. Therefore, people who live with anxiety and depression can also be identified as being part of the disability community

Mad Pride is an example of a movement that aligns itself or can be a part of the disability rights community, defined as a “mass movement of the users of mental health services, former users and their allies. Mad Pride activists  seek to reclaim terms such ‘mad’, ‘nutter’ and ‘psycho’ from misuse… Mad Pride activists seek to re-educate the general public on such subjects as the as the causes of mental disabilities, the experiences of those using the mental health system’” (The Power of ‘Healing Voices’). People who identify as Mad can include those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, 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, but I also realize that not all of it is solely negative.  The fact that I ruminate can be helpful when I am processing new ideas, learning how to work with other people, and understanding how things work.  Anxiety can help to push me to go further, but can also make it hard to get work done.  I am learning how it may make sense to feel these things depending on what’s going on in my external life and recognizing these signals can help me navigate the course that may be right for me and to help me find balance.

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.