March 26, 2021

Mental Health in Physically Disabled Individuals

Written by: Syed Naqvi, MBBS
Reviewed by: Mubashar Rehman, PHD

Individuals with physical disabilities have been viewed as somewhat “less human” since ancient times. Although recent civil rights movements in the past few decades have made the situation favorable for disabled individuals, the plague of discriminating against disabled individuals prevails in different parts of the world even today. In ancient times, the thought of disability was looked at more along the lines of inability to survive. With epidemics, diseases, wars, and whatnot, the disabled individuals were naturally placed at the lower end of survival. However, with recent advances in technology and healthcare, disabled people have almost the same chances of survival as those with no disability but where physical health has caught up with the general population, mental health is still overlooked and is one of the biggest concerns in today’s fast-paced life. A study revealed that people with disabilities are 4.6 times more likely to report mental distress than people with no disabilities [1].

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How Mental Health is Affected in Disabled Individuals?

Individuals with disabilities have to go through more challenges than an average person. There are many reasons why these individuals are at an increased risk of deterioration of the mental health.


Social Isolation:

While social isolation and loneliness are common reports among individuals today, people with disabilities are at an elevated risk of the adverse effects of social isolation. A recent study revealed that people with a disability experienced loneliness, low perceived social support, and social isolation at significantly higher rates than people without disability [2].


Financial Difficulties:

People with disabilities have limited employment opportunities. This leads to financial difficulties and poverty. They may have the mental capacity to fulfill a job successfully but an inability to do so due to physical limitations is quite distressing for many disabled people. Poverty has negative effects on not only the disabled individual but the whole family as well. The increased financial burden of a disabled person is also linked with neglect and abuse which are eventually linked with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The financial effects of disability are more drastic if the primary bread-earner of the family faces a physical disability. This may raise the risk of poverty within the whole family and may negatively impact the intellectual growth of the children who depend on the primary bread-earner.



Discrimination faced by disabled teenagers hurts their mental health [3]. Bullying, name-calling, and teasing change the perspective of these young minds forever and develop low self-esteem.


Less Free Will:

Consider the decisions of a disabled person. Unlike individuals with no disabilities, these people have to plan ahead of time if they want to go out or visit someone. Will there be an elevator? Are the hallways wide enough for easy mobility? Is the apartment on the ground floor? These are just a few thoughts that come to mind. Not to mention the fact that a vacation may be too troublesome for some individuals that they prefer to stay at home. 


Different Ways of Handling Mental Distress

Logically, mental distress is always creeping around disabled individuals, But there are many ways to keep it at bay or even treat it.


Visit your Doctor:

It is never too late to get help. Visit a psychiatrist to get evaluated and treated for mental distress. Therapy does wonders in improving your well-being. Just like a physical disease, a mental disease causes an abnormality in the regulation of your hormones and needs to be treated by a licensed doctor.


Support Groups:

Being among people with a similar situation may help you in understanding your physical disability better. Moreover, your peers may know about different healthy ways to cope with the stress of physical disability. You can apply them in your life to avoid mental distress. Sharing your problems with others has been known to alleviate the feeling of distress. It may also help you in overcoming this hurdle.



Meditation has been shown to relax your inner thoughts and conflicts. It may help you gain a new and positive perspective on your condition, which may help you cope with the difficulties. Meditation makes you more self-aware and increases your patience and tolerance to cope with mental distress.


Start a Hobby:

Just because you are disabled does not mean all the doors to healthy and entertaining life are closed. Starting a hobby or some interesting project may help you keep preoccupied. It may also give you a sense of accomplishment. Feeling accomplished and productive is a great way to feel good about yourself. You can do volunteer work, gardening, scrapbooking, or collecting to name a few. Do what you enjoy and you’ll find yourself looking forward to the day when you’ll finish your project.



Physical disabilities are not just limited to physical symptoms. Even in today’s world where extensive research into mental distress has proven the importance of mental health for a healthy life. The aspects of mental well-being are often overlooked. Individuals with disabilities are at an increased risk of deteriorating mental health. Therefore, they need to be treated accordingly. This will improve not only their well-being but also of the whole society. This will also increase the productivity of people with disabilities so they can contribute to the growth and stability of our developing society. 



  1. Cree RA, Okoro CA, Zack MM, Carbone E. Frequent Mental Distress Among Adults, by Disability Status, Disability Type, and Selected Characteristics - United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(36):1238-1243. Published 2020 Sep 11. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6936a2
  2. Emerson E, Fortune N, Llewellyn G, Stancliffe R. Loneliness, social support, social isolation and wellbeing among working age adults with and without disability: Cross-sectional study. Disabil Health J. 2021;14(1):100965. doi:10.1016/j.dhjo.2020.100965
  3. King T, Kavanagh A. Disabled teens suffering the mental health effects of bullying. The Conversation. Published 2018. Accessed March 5, 2021.
Article written by Syed Naqvi, MBBS
Dr Syed Naqvi is a graduate of King Edward Medical University which is one of the top medical schools in his country. He has a 10-year editorial experience working on different projects. He has spent countless hours in pursuing his lifelong dream as a doctor. Ever since clearing his United States Medical Licensing Exams, he has been pursuing different aspects of medical education to broaden his scope. His interests lie in medical education, philosophy, and writing. He likes to write books for personal use and recently finished a 3000-page medical book. He likes to spend his free time reading philosophy, psychology, and medical books.

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