Physical, psychological, social, and environmental factors can all contribute to a person's mental health. In a recent Virginia survey, 43.5% of adults with disabilities rated their health either "fair" or "poor." They reported having more than 5 times more days (average of 9.07) in which their physical health was not good in comparison to people without disabilities (average of 1.54 days). Twice as many people with disabilities reported being limited in their activities due to poor health as compared with people without disabilities. Individuals with disabilities whose mental health issues led them to miss work reported an average of nearly 7 days in the past month in which their mental health was not good, which was about 3 times as many reported by people without disabilities. The survey also revealed that "...over one-third of people with disabilities (39.3%) show signs of anxiety or depression in contrast to 19.5% of people who do not have a disability."[i]
Healthy People 2020 reports specific health disparities for people with disabilities, which not only include mental health services, but disparities that contribute to their mental wellness:
- Experiencing difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need;
- Not engaging in fitness activities;
- Using tobacco;
- Being overweight or obese;
- Having high blood pressure;
- Experiencing symptoms of psychological distress;
- Receiving less social-emotional support; and
- Having lower employment rates.
Depression is a serious medical condition that if left untreated can affect all aspects of a person's life including those around them. Symptoms of depression can include changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, changes in sleep patterns, loss of energy, increased fatigue, restlessness, irritability, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, lack of control, difficulty concentrating, or making decisions, and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms can be caused by chronic medical conditions and/or the medicines used to treat them, as well as alcohol and drug abuse or misuse. Depression also tends to run in families, and certain life events can cause an episode of depression, such as loss of one's independence, identity, social relationships, job, and family.
In a 2010 article, suicide among people with disabilities was described as "a complex and pressing public health concern," stating suicide rates are significantly higher among people with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury than in the general population. There is an urgent need for research priorities in the areas of validation of incidence, assessment of risk factors, and determination of best practices for prevention, in order to help children and adults with disabilities to lead happier, healthier, and longer lives.[ii]
It is estimated that "30-35% of all persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities have a psychiatric disorder" that negatively impacts their quality of life but can be easily overlooked. The types of mental health disorders seen in the general population, are also seen in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They may present as mood, personality, adjustment or anxiety disorders, as well as psycho or other psychiatric disorders. Treatments such as behavioral management, psychopharmacology, and psychotherapy are often used.[iii]
Virginia's database websites provide integrated search opportunities by city, county, or zip code to find resources, articles, and links on Mental Health topics (Suggested topics to search by include: depression, anxiety, suicide, and mental health).
- disAbilityNavigator (www.disAbilityNavigator.org)
- SeniorNavigator (www.SeniorNavigator.org)
- VirginiaNavigator (www.VirginiaNavigator.org)
- Virginia Easy Access (www.easyaccess.virginia.gov)
Virginia Health Promotion for People with Disabilities (www.hppd.vcu.edu/links.php) Select HPPD Links to Disability Resources.
Virginia Websites - Mental Health:
- Psychiatric Society of Virginia Inc. (www.psva.org)
- Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (www.dbhds.virginia.gov)
National Websites - Mental Health:
- American Psychiatric Association (www.psych.org)
- American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. (www.appi.org)
- Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives (www.healthyminds.org)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (www.nami.org)
- National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov)
- National Mental Health America (NMHA) (www.nmha.org)
- Partnership for Workplace Mental Health (www.workplacementalhealth.org)
Mental Health Resource Materials
NADD (www.thenadd.org) - An association for people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs providing consultation services and on-line training for professionals. Catalog of resources includes books, CD's, DVDs, multimedia, and self-directed study.
National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) - Select "Mental Health Information" to access resources by gender, age, and/or topics like anxiety, depression, prevention, suicide prevention.
North Carolina Office on Disability and Health - Depression and Disability: A Practical Guide (www.fpg.unc.edu/~ncodh/pdfs/depression.pdf)
PACE University Counseling Center (www.pace.edu) - Search for "suicide prevention" for a list of fact sheets including Get in the Know: Suicide Prevention for College Students with Physical Disabilities.
[i] Health Status of Virginians with Disabilities 2007-2009. (2011. pp. 13, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23). Virginia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).
[ii] Disability and Health Journal. 2010 Apr. 3(2):74-8. Epub 2009 Nov 3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21122771
[iii] NADD. Information on Dual Diagnosis. www.thenadd.org/pages/about/ddinfo.shtml
The Health Promotion for People with Disabilities (HPPD) initiative is located at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, a university center for excellence in developmental disabilities, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia HPPD Project was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59/DD000270 (2009-2012). Information expressed here are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC. For more information about this initiative go to www.hppd.vcu.edu or call 804-828-8587.