When it comes to the subject of disability, many healthcare articles might only tackle physical health and coping with grief. Its impact on mental health might be touched on slightly, but what many people don’t know about is the quality of mental health care disabled patients receive.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are more common among the disabled because of abuse, isolation, and stressors linked to poverty, among others. One study even revealed that suicidality was regarded as significantly more acceptable in disabled people.
Without a doubt, these data are alarming.
Mental health issues start at the moment of diagnosis or after seeing test results. As soon as a patient hears that they cannot move the same way again, anxiety immediately builds up. And since they don’t have contacts with the disability community yet, they’ll feel alienated.
That said, how do they get help for their mental health, and what other things can help improve their well-being?
Disabled People’s Cases Aren’t Treated With Urgency
When an able-bodied patient comes to the psychiatric ER and confesses that he/she wants to take his/her own life, the doctors will immediately give him/her the help that he/she needs. But in the case of Heather Kersetter, a patient who uses a wheelchair, the doctors acted quite differently.
According to her, the first thing she was told was, “It’s a good thing you can’t commit suicide, anyway, right?” (It was because she is in a wheelchair.)
That had upset Kersetter because her disability made doctors assume that she didn’t need emergency help for her mental health condition.
Despite telling the doctors that she’ll die if they sent her home, such was still done after an hour, because supposedly, there wasn’t an available caretaker who could help Kersetter in the psychiatric ER. It’s not until three weeks later that she finally got medical attention.
Kersetter isn’t alone in this struggle. On social media, where she shares her advocacy for policy, she heard many similar stories, like that of Ian Watlington, a senior disability advocacy specialist at the National Disability Rights Network.
Because he also struggled in seeking treatment, Watlington has spoken to doctors about automatically screening disabled people for depression to ensure that they’ll receive help early on.
Lisa Iezzoni, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated accessibility as an issue in receiving mental health care. Psychiatric hospitals aren’t equipped with tech for the disabled, and their nurses aren’t trained to do a tech’s job.
What Disabled People and the Healthcare System Can Do
Aside from their general condition, job loss and financial issues also impair a disabled person’s mental health. But thankfully, disability lawyers are easy to reach out to, and they can efficiently assist their clients in acquiring their disability claims.
Some disabled people skip pursuing claims because of the stress in healthcare and other factors. But getting claims can lift a significant burden for them. With those, they will be entitled to benefits, such as a stable income.
But of course, the healthcare system has to adapt to them as well.
David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer of the American Counseling Association, recommends getting group counseling for the disabled. The group should consist of newly-disabled people and those struggling to cope, along with people who have already adjusted and can act as their mentors and support pillars.
Meanwhile, Watlington hopes that there will be incentives for doctors who study more on people with disabilities or pursue a related specialty. He thinks that this will let the disabled have more options and help debunk the misconceptions of doctors about the mental health of people with disabilities.
Despite the persistent stigma, people with disabilities are still optimistic that a good change will happen in time. As awareness spreads further, they will also receive high-quality mental health care, just like an able-bodied patient.