News and Events

Mental Health Awareness Week: Life with a Physical Disability

by Charlotte Murphy 10/05/2021

Did you know that around 30% of people with long term physical disabilities experience mental health problems? Or that depression and suicidal thoughts are common in those with a disability?

These figures shoot up if you suddenly become disabled due to an injury or progressive illness. Given the numerous challenges faced every day by those with disabilities, these figures are hardly surprising, although the connection is often ignored.

“The body and the mind have often been seen as two separate entities,” agree Northamptonshire-based care experts, Helping Hands Home Care, “but when it comes to our overall wellbeing, they’re actually much closer connected than you might think.”

This Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16th May 2021), it’s time to acknowledge these challenges and stand up to fight.

Everyone can adapt to limitations and challenges, overcome their depression or anxiety and live a rich and fulfilling life, even when living with a physical disability. Let’s find out more.

What mental health challenges do those with disabilities face?

Living with a physical disability sometimes means you face numerous challenges that may take their toll on your mental health. The most difficult of these can be how you feel about your disability, yourself and your place in the world.

Like many others in similar situations, you may struggle with your body image, self-esteem, confidence and lack of independence. Perhaps you feel that no one can understand what you’re going through, both psychologically and emotionally. This may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, and could impact the way you build meaningful friendships or romantic relationships.

According to a 2019 report from the Office of National Statistics named ‘Disability, well-being and loneliness, UK: 2019’;

“The proportion of disabled people (13.3%) who report feeling lonely “often or always” is almost four times that of non-disabled people (3.4%), with the greatest disparity for young adults, aged 16 to 24 years old.”

If this wasn’t enough, the logistics of life can feel overwhelming when you have a disability. A lack of accessible facilities in buildings, public transport, educational facilities and even restaurants can make having any sort of social life feel like a headache.

This can feel even worse if you’ve suddenly become disabled through an accident or disabling illness. You wonder how you’ll ever be able to find work, maintain a relationship or be happy again.

It’s hardly surprising that those with physical disabilities are more likely to be affected by other health problems. But with the right physical and mental health support, you can enjoy a rich and fulfilling life.

How to support your mental health with a disability

Accept your disability
When you have a disability, accepting it can feel like the last thing you want to do. But this acceptance could open the door to moving forward and living your life to the fullest.

● Acknowledge your feelings. It can be helpful to acknowledge the way you feel about your situation, as suppressing may lead to future problems with your mental health. Instead, notice your feelings and work through them without judgement.

● Accept that you will have bad days and good days. Living with a physical disability can feel like a rollercoaster ride. Have faith that these feelings will pass.

● Learn as much as you can about your disability. This will help you to feel more empowered, and able to adjust to any changes as needed.

● Don’t think about what you can’t do. Try and focus on what you can do.

● Take inspiration – engage with stories from inspiring people who may have a similar diagnosis, and know that you too can overcome the challenges you are facing.

Get help and support

When we feel depressed, anxious or lonely, we often withdraw from the world and isolate ourselves. Whilst this is entirely understandable, it’s important to stay connected.

To make a start, you may consider nurturing the relationships you have with family and friends. Sharing your feelings and being honest with those you trust may help alleviate some pressure.

If they can’t provide the support you need, consider speaking to a mental health professional. Kettering Mind offers Crisis Cafes three times a week, as do our countywide partners across Northamptonshire, in Northampton, Corby, Wellingborough, Rushden and Daventry. These cafe’s provide a safe space where you can share how you’re feeling.

You could also consider joining a disability group and taking part in scheduled activities to help build your social circle and meet people who understand what you’re going through.

Take care of yourself

To feel at your best, both mentally and physically, it’s important to take good care of yourself.

Ensure you’re eating a healthy balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and unprocessed foods. It’s best to avoid highly processed carbs, sugars and other similar foods as much as you can (but don’t worry- you can still treat yourself from time to time!)

Staying active helps to release feel-good chemicals which can help improve your symptoms of anxiety and depression, grow your confidence and feel more positive. Even with limited mobility, you will be surprised at what you can achieve. Start small and listen to your body.

Finally, ensure you’re getting between 7-9 hours of sleep per night so your body has chance to rest and repair.

Find things that give you a sense of purpose

There’s no need to feel useless or that you’re lacking purpose. You can still contribute to the world when you’re living with a disability. Just look at Stephen Hawking, Nick Vujicic and Christopher Reeve.

What are you passionate about? What gets you into a ‘flow state’? Are there any causes that you feel driven to support?

Consider how you can practice these hobbies, take part in fundraising or start volunteering for a cause. With a few adaptations to help support your abilities, the sky’s the limit.

Conclusion

When you live with a physical disability, you may face additional mental health challenges that could push you to your limits.

However, it’s important to remember that you can take control of your mental health and exceed your own expectations. Accept your disability, take care of your body, seek help and support and practice meaningful activities and you could continue to live life to the full.