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Our Mental Health Blogs

Mental Illness as a Disability

Is a person with a mental illness a person with a disability? Are people with bipolar disabled? More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

I don’t have anything against people with a disability. Why would I? Being disabled means nothing about the individual, it simply indicates their situation. It would be like being against people with siblings. It would just be silly.

Nevertheless, when considering my own bipolar disorder, I bristled against the word “disability.” I know; this is hypocritical of me and a double standard. It’s OK for someone else to be disabled but not me? I’m embarrassed to even think it.

But bristle I have and think it I (mostly subconsciously) did. The truth is, though, I’m a person with a disability.

I Have a Mental Illness Disability

I had never considered myself disabled. Maybe that’s because I went to school, got a degree, had jobs and accomplished (empirically) a lot. There was nothing disabled about that.

But then, one day when I was working at a fancy software company bigger than the town I grew up in, someone suggested I file person with a disability paperwork with human resources.

What? That’s a ridiculous notion. Why would I do that?

My Own Misperceptions of Disability

Of course, what I failed to take into consideration is that people with a disability are just people. And lots of them work for fancy software companies. Why wouldn’t they? I did. I think I always thought of a person with a disability as a person who couldn’t walk or who had some other sort of physical handicap. I never considered that disabilities could be invisible. I didn’t realize that my invisible disease was, in fact, a disability.

But let me be clear – mental illnesses are real illnesses and as such can be real disabilities just like anything else. Visibility isn’t a prerequisite.

Yes, I Have a Mental Health Disability

But stating you have a mental illness disability is simply stating that you have an illness or handicap that affects how you interact with the world in comparison to everyone else. If you were in a wheelchair, this difference would be obvious. With a mental illness it is less so. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

People with a disability are legally allowed to ask for reasonable accommodation of their illness at work. And people with a mental illness may need that kind of accommodation. So running from the word “disability” is a silly thing to do and in the end, only hurts us.

I’ve learned that being disabled doesn’t change a single thing about me. It doesn’t change who I am or who I’m going to be just like it doesn’t change how I think of anyone else. It’s nonsense to be afraid of a word just because it makes us confront uncomfortable truths. I’m disabled. And it’s OK.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

26 thoughts on “Mental Illness as a Disability”

  1. Mental disorder terminology originated in Ancient Greece. What. It is obsolete although still condoned. What should apply is chemical disorder of the brain which entails disability.

  2. I’m 27 with a 7 year old and a 9 year old. I am a single mom with bi polar disorder. Since I’ve be of age to work I’ve wanted to, and almost every job I’ve had I’ve failed at due to symptoms of my disorder or side affects of medication treatment…and I believe this is true even before my break down leading to my diagnosis. I was misdiagnosed earlier on add a teenager with chronic depression. I’ve applied for social security disability 3x and have been denied 3x. My therapist encourages me to reapply each time but I don’t have it in me to keep going through the process. the process angers me and I become unstable. The angerand aggression scare me because there its no censor add to who gets it. I don’t want my children to ever see me in that light ever again where I lose all control… I’m lost within my mind and there doesn’t seem to be helpful help for me.

  3. As I was recovering, I had a helluva of a time just doing basic things, which was hard on me as I’ve always been independent. I couldn’t even write a resume, though I have written plenty of successful ones (and sometimes not so successful ones) for other people in the past. At one point, I went to a job training center as suggested by my case worker, just to get the motor running. I do remember feeling the way you did and felt some trepidation in participating in this. I have never applied for unemployment, have never taken a disability leave, or anything remotely close to it in my life – I’ve always had a job since I was 16. I spoke with a social worker, he asked why I haven’t worked, and I mentioned in passing that I suffered from depression (thinking it was more acceptable than BP) and was unable to work for a while. After that, everytime he saw me, he would ask in a condescending way, “are you depressed? Is that why you haven’t found a job? Have you taken your pills?” Nevermind this was after the housing market crashed and EVERYONE had a hard time finding work, pills or no pills. Needless to say, I was livid and reported him to my case worker who felt BAD because she had been referring people there. The minute people hear any reference to MH – even social workers who really should know better – they automatically dismiss you as hopeless. What an eye opener! I wondered what the hell did he actually learn in school (shockingly, he had a master’s degree)? Or what the hell did his sociology program teach him? I’m sure somewhere in there a chapter or two on the disabled in society was slipped in, but maybe he was too busy looking at the hot chick two rows down to absorb it, I don’t know…

    I’ve always been committed to meeting my obligations no matter how hard things were going healthwise, and it hasn’t always been easy. It was so demoralizing and affected me for a long time thereafter. But this happened when I was newly diagnosed and the idea of acceptance seemed like a pipe dream. It still does for the most part. I’ve also learned that an advanced degree doesn’t mean squat.

  4. As I was recovering, I had a helluva of a time just getting back on my feet. I couldn’t even write a resume, though I have written plenty of successful ones (and sometimes not so successful ones) for other people. At one point, I went to a job training center as suggested by my case worker. I do remember feeling the way you did and felt some trepidation in participating in this. I have never applied for unemployment, have never taken a disability leave, or anything remotely close to it in my life – I’ve always had a job since I was 16. I spoke with a social worker, he asked why I haven’t worked, and I mentioned in passing that I suffered from depression and was unable to work for a while. After that, everytime he saw me, he would ask in a condescending way, “are you depressed? Is that why you haven’t found a job? Have you taken your pills?” Needless to say, I was livid and reported him to my case worker who felt BAD because she had been referring people there. The minute people hear any reference to MH – even social workers who should really know better – they automatically dismiss you as hopeless. What an eye opener! I wondered what the hell people actually learned in school? Or what the hell did his social studies program teach? I’ve always been committed to meeting my obligations no matter how hard things were going healthwise, and it hasn’t always been easy. It was so demoralizing and affected me for a long time thereafter.

  5. Hi Natasha, I will contact them for sure. First I wanted to share with you the quote I would use. Also, at this point I am just using your name, but perhpas you would like to be referenced with more inforamtion?

    “ I don’t have anything against people with a disability. Why would I? Being disabled means nothing about the individual, it simply indicates their situation. It would be like being against people with siblings. It would just be silly. Nevertheless, when considering my own bipolar disorder, I bristled against the word “disability.” I know; this is hypocritical of me and a double standard. It’s OK for someone else to be disabled but not me? I’m embarrassed to even think it.”
    Natasha Tracy

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