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Friday, Mar 27, 2015

Mental health and disability


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Besides having penned this newspaper column about disability since 2002, I’m also a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor.

Recently, the American Mental Health Counselors Association sent an email to its members declaring May 6-12 as “Mental Health Counseling Week” and urging all AMHCA members to “set aside time during (the week) to participate in local activities to promote and reinforce the importance of mental health.”

So today I’m tossing in my two cents. A disproportionate percentage of people with disabilities also have a mental illness.

Overall, America is becoming more “disabled” as its population skews older and medical science becomes more skilled at preserving the lives of people with medical issues.

The number of people claiming disability benefits is skyrocketing. The federal government generally determines a person has a disability when that person has a significant impairment in any major life function, such as walking, seeing or thinking.

As for mental illness, I could cite many studies suggesting people with all types of disabilities are more susceptible. I could add that people with certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, have enough severe symptoms to be judged disabled.

Of all these studies I could cite, though, one in particular caught my attention, titled “Prevalence of Secondary Conditions Among People with Disabilities,” which was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2004.

In this study of more than 2,000 adults in Washington state, 87 percent of people surveyed who reported a disability also had a “second condition,” which the study authors defined as “preventable physical, mental and social disorders resulting directly or indirectly from an initial disabling condition.”

For instance, about 34 percent of the people with disabilities surveyed reported having a second condition of “moderate or very big” periods of depression, and 19 percent reported “serious episodes of anxiety.” In other areas tied to mental illness, 13 percent had “problems making or seeing friends,” and 15 percent had “feelings of being isolated.”

The percentage of people with a disability experiencing these conditions was nearly three times higher than respondents without a disability.

Let’s not forget people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by mental illness and the least likely to afford, have access to or seek help.

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