Depression and disability may go hand in hand, depending upon the support system that an individual has. Friends, family members and support groups are all part of a good support system that a disabled individual needs. While some people seem very independent and don’t seem to need anything or anyone, having a person or group of people to rely on when things get tough can help disabled people combat depression.
For the recently disabled, depression is very common. They have gone from being able-bodied to perhaps being someone that has to depend on assistance from others. They may be struggling with their memories of being able bodied, and trying to accept their current physical or mental limitations. Acknowledging a new disability isn’t always easy; for many, it can take years to fully accept that they are disabled and can no longer do some, or many, of the things they once enjoyed doing. It is normal for them to feel sad or angry as they are grieving the loss of their former life.
Disabled at Birth
Some individuals are disabled at birth. They may have a disability that was a result of being born, or a genetic problem that causes their disability. While some may argue that being disabled from birth somehow makes things easier, such as developing coping mechanisms from an early age, others do not share the same view. Those who are disabled at an early age may spend years struggling to find acceptance with their peers and teachers, have difficulty forming new relationships, have trouble transitioning to adulthood and finally landing a job.
Signs of Depression
Many individuals have wonderful support systems in place, such as friends and family that help them navigate the rough times. Just as many, however, lack the support systems they need, especially if they are newly disabled living in an able-bodied world. It is not unusual to occasionally have a “why me?” moment when facing difficulties in life, especially when a disability seems to be causing the difficulty. However, when an individual is feeling like the world is against them all of the time, they may be experiencing clinical depression, not merely “the blues.”
The following are signs of clinical depression:
- Difficulty remembering things, concentrating or making simple decisions
- Feeling tired all of the time despite getting enough sleep
- Feeling helpless or worthless
- Feeling pessimistic
- Having insomnia frequently or sleeping more than necessary
- Frequent irritability and having trouble calming down
- Loss of interest in things that you previously enjoyed doing
- Increased appetite or loss of appetite
- Frequently feeling ill, such as having headaches, digestive problems or other unexplained aches and pains
- Constant feelings of sadness or anxiousness
- Frequent suicidal thoughts or attempts at suicide
Often disabled people have their disability treated, but they don’t have their emotional or spiritual needs addressed. Medical doctors are usually not counselors, and therefore may not be aware that their patient is experiencing an emotional problem. For this reason, patients (who are able) need to be their own advocate. This means speaking up and letting a primary care physician or specialist know that you’re feeling sad or depressed and that you need someone to talk to. Caregivers also need to be aware of the disabled person’s emotional needs and be on the lookout for the warning signs of depression. A caregiver may be the first line of defense in helping a person suffering quietly from depression.
It is normal to feel sad or even depressed for a few days over events in our lives, but sadness or depression that lasts longer than a few days requires assistance from a primary care physician or certified counselor. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call your local suicide hotline immediately or call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889). Alternatively, seek help at a local hospital’s emergency room right away.