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Mental health awareness



Photograph: Pexels

Text: Michaela Medveďová / Sara R. Newell


While the day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health is annually on the 10th of October, in this issue, we would like to continue bringing light to this topic - and specifically take a closer look at what can impact the mental health of people with disabilities who are disproportionately suffering from poor mental health.


Mental health among people with disabilities

According to the UDS Foundation, adults with disabilities are disproportionately experiencing poor mental health, experiencing “frequent mental distress (14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the past 30 days) almost five times as often as adults without disabilities”.


CDC estimates that in 2018, 17.4 million (32.9%) adults with disabilities experienced this mental health state.


In previous years, this was also further accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as “reduced healthcare services, disrupted routines, and social isolation have been particularly detrimental to the mental health aspects of developmental disabilities and physical limitations”. In their study of mental health services for people with disabilities during the pandemic in the United States, Manning et al. found these implications:


“In a two-wave study of adults with a wide range of visible and invisible disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that perceived disability bias from providers significantly predicted a lower likelihood of mental health service use. These findings point to the urgent need for disability competency training and stigma reduction interventions geared toward mental health professionals.”


Why are people with disabilities disproportionately impacted?

The reason for this increased susceptibility might be the fact that people with disabilities, in general, face a much larger number of obstacles and barriers around them - be it actual physical barriers hindering their daily life and participation in society, lack of financial assistance or other resources, lack of support provided by system, or stereotypes, ableism, and overall adverse reactions.


The added cost of mental health assistance might also be a barrier for people whose disabilities bar them from working (or working full-time) in case private specialists are needed, resulting in prolonged issues with poor mental health.


As the UDS Foundation writes, often, doctors might see poor mental health as a direct consequence of having one or multiple disabilities rather than something that is impacting a person independently. They write: “Mental health conditions are lumped together with other disability symptoms, causing poor mental health or mental illness to be overlooked entirely.” Having a disability that impacts one’s verbal abilities or understanding can also hinder access to mental health assistance: “It may also be more difficult for providers to diagnose and reduce mental health symptoms since therapists rely heavily on verbal communication.”


Is there help available?

Unfortunately, it can be challenging to reach timely psychological help, especially if one lacks sufficient resources. Psykiatrifonden reports that while in “2012 the waiting time for treatment for anxiety at a psychologist was five weeks, today it is circa four months”.


"Mental health is a basic human right for all people. Everyone, whoever and wherever they are, has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. This includes the right to be protected from mental health risks, the right to available, accessible, acceptable, and good quality care, and the right to liberty, independence and inclusion in the community." - World Health Organization: World Mental Health Day, the 10th of October 2023

However, there are organizations in Denmark that offer help and are fighting to improve the state of mental health assistance and mental health levels of people in Denmark.


Psykiatrifonden offers free anonymous telephone and chat advice from professional advisors and points people in acute crisis to the appropriate help. They also offer free children and youth groups for those with relatives suffering from mental health problems.


SIND also provides nationwide telephone advice, local advice around the country, consulting if you need more knowledge or advice about a mental illness, and even support when weaning off of medication.


Bedre Psykiatri provides tons of knowledge and education resources in addition to counselling for relatives of people with mental illnesses and local conversation groups of people in a similar situation.


What are the symptoms to look out for?

If you are not sure if you - or someone close to you - is suffering from poorer mental health, here are a few signs you might want to be on the lookout for and subsequently seek out professional help:


  • Unusual lack of enjoyment of your preferred activities

  • Being more irritated, frustrated, worried, and angry - or simply consistently in a bad mood

  • Experiencing a change in your sleeping and eating habits - whether sleeping/eating too much or too little

  • Decreased energy, reduced concentration and memory

  • Suicidal thoughts.

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