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Effects of Physical Disability on Mental Health

A man sitting on bed staring at his wheelchair. Physical disability can affect mental health of a person.
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | October 21, 2021 (Last update: December 21, 2021)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

A physical disability is a much complex issue than most of us believe it to be. A physical disability is not simply an impairment or a restricted ability to do a certain task. That is just one part of the whole picture. Physical disabilities have multifaceted impacts on a person’s life that affects almost every aspect of her living. In this article, we will try to assess the impacts of physical disabilities on the mental health of the person inflicted with the disability.

Statistics on Mental Health of Persons with a Disability

Studies and researches have time and again indicated that people with disabilities are at higher risk of mental health issues as compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Interestingly, some of those studies have also shown that people with mental health issues are more likely to develop a physical health problem.

According to a study done in 2018, around 32.9% of adults with disabilities experience frequent mental distress. The frequency is almost 5 times more as compared to adults without disabilities.

Reasons Affecting Mental Health of a Person with Disability

Persons with disabilities often do not distress for the fact that they have certain disabilities. There are various factors that make people with disabilities more prone to mental health issues. Let us see some of the most common reasons behind the mental health issues of a person with a disability.

Societal Constraints

We are living in a time when we focus a lot on individualism but the fact can never be changed that human beings are ‘social animals’. Society plays a crucial role in everybody’s life, including persons with disabilities. Studies have shown that suicidal thoughts and tendencies in persons with disabilities do not come due to their physical limitations but due to the way, they are treated in their society.

Persons with visible disabilities often face discrimination in public places. General public’s ‘different attitude’ towards persons with disabilities may push them towards life-threatening depression. Of course, different cultures have different norms. Societies that consider people with disabilities relatively at par with non-disabled counterparts will have a lesser number of PwDs with mental health issues and vice versa.

Loneliness and Isolation

Human beings, being social animals, are not designed to live alone or to be left alone. Some people with a severe disability do not have any means to get out of their house and participate in social life. Inaccessible infrastructure forces a lot more to live an isolated life within the four walls of their house. Many people with certain kinds of disabilities are isolated by society due to myths about their disability. Whatever may be the reason, it’s difficult to save a person from mental health issues if they remain lonely and isolated for a long time. So, this is one of the factors contributing to the high incidence of mental health issues among persons with disabilities.

Barriers to Mental Health Care

Effective and accessible mental health care is rarely available for persons with disabilities. There is variety of barriers that prevent people with disabilities to see a mental health professional well in time. Sometimes infrastructure is not accessible, sometimes there’s no support from the caregiver and sometimes stigmatization restricts persons with disabilities in seeking help when needed.

Sometimes even a mental health practitioner can push a person with a disability towards stress by sharing their own stigmatizing beliefs about the disability of the person. Not all mental health professionals are sensitized towards disability and hence can be an ableist.

Lack of Integrated Care

Many disabilities are painful and require frequent medical attention. The painful medical treatments may cause traumatic stress in many individuals. Long hospitalization periods may break a person’s social connections and leave them lonely. People often tend to ignore mental health while they focus on physical comfort and pain relief. Due to a lack of integration in the medical field, persons with disabilities do not get the holistic care they need for their overall well-being.

High Incidence of Unemployment and Poverty

In most countries around the world, the incidence of unemployment is higher in individuals with disabilities. Moreover, the life maintenance cost for persons with disabilities too is higher than those without disabilities. The clubbed effect is poverty. Needless to say, a distressing condition like this, where a person has to deal with physical pain, limitations, and poverty, easily attracts mental health issues like depression. A person in such a condition does not even have the awareness or access to mental health care.

Communication Barriers

Mental health professionals can work best when they can communicate with the person who needs their help. Many disabilities affect a person’s communication skills thereby significantly decreasing their chance of getting proper help. Even persons with disabilities with no limitation with communication often find it difficult to communicate their need for help. They do not want to have an extra layer of stigma added to them. A mental health issue coupled with a disability is a dangerous combination that can stigmatize a person to the level of isolating them.

Final Words from WeCapable

Being mentally healthy is important for everyone, including persons with disabilities. Therefore, make sure to take care of your mental health as you try to keep your body healthy. And, if you need the help of a medical health professional, do get it. Don’t let the social stigma dictate what you do to keep yourself healthy in all possible ways. Be a self-advocate about your needs.

And, if you are a friend or family of a person with a disability, treat them with love and dignity as you would have treated someone without a disability. Sometimes only a feeling of being valued can keep a person happy and away from stress and loneliness.

Use the citation below to add this article to your bibliography

"Effects of Physical Disability on Mental Health." Web. May 24, 2024. <>, "Effects of Physical Disability on Mental Health." Accessed May 24, 2024.

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