Disabled and Anxious

By Cat Maness, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and disabled person

Discussing the connection between disability and anxiety is important because it highlights the unique challenges disabled individuals face when dealing with anxiety. Disabled people are more likely to experience anxiety due to various factors, such as social isolation, discrimination, and financial stress. Understanding these factors and their impact on mental health is crucial in developing effective strategies for managing anxiety in this population. It is also essential to recognize that disabled people may experience anxiety differently than those without disabilities and may require tailored interventions to meet their specific needs.

Disabled individuals often face discrimination and negative attitudes that can lead to social isolation and feelings of shame about their identities. By acknowledging the prevalence of anxiety among disabled people and providing resources for managing it, we can help promote greater mental health awareness and acceptance in the disabled community. Furthermore, discussing the connection between disability and anxiety can help reduce the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental health in the disabled community. Ultimately, improving access to mental health services and support for disabled individuals can lead to better overall health outcomes and greater social inclusion.

The Prevalence of Anxiety among Disabled People

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disabled individuals are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems, including anxiety disorders. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2018 found that individuals with disabilities had a significantly higher prevalence of anxiety disorders than non-disabled individuals. Specifically, the study found that the lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among disabled individuals was 43.2%, compared to 28.8% among those without disabilities.

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Mental Health in 2020 found that adults with intellectual disabilities had higher rates of anxiety disorders than those without intellectual disabilities. Specifically, the study found that the prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adults with intellectual disabilities was 50.7%, compared to 20.9% among those without intellectual disabilities.

There are several reasons why disabled individuals may experience higher rates of anxiety than non-disabled individuals. These reasons include the following:

These factors, in combination with other stressors, can contribute to higher rates of anxiety among disabled individuals.

The Impact of Anxiety on Disabled People

First, let us look at the symptoms that impact all people experiencing anxiety. Anxiety can have both physical and psychological effects on individuals. Some of the physical effects of anxiety include:

Some of the psychological effects of anxiety include:

These physical and psychological effects can be debilitating and negatively impact an individual's well-being. Seeking treatment and support for anxiety can help individuals manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Now let’s look at the impact on disabled individuals. The physical and psychological effects of anxiety on disabled people may be compounded by their disability. Some of the physical effects of anxiety on disabled individuals may include the following:

Some of the psychological effects of anxiety on disabled individuals may include the following:

It is important for disabled individuals experiencing anxiety to seek support and treatment to manage these physical and psychological effects and improve overall well-being.

Anxiety Coping Strategies for Disabled People

There are many strategies and tools for anxious people in general, but some assistive technology and accommodations can be especially helpful in managing anxiety for disabled individuals. Here are some examples:

By utilizing assistive technology and accommodations, disabled individuals can reduce anxiety and improve their overall well-being. It is important for individuals to work with healthcare professionals and disability advocates to determine which accommodations and assistive technology will be most beneficial for their unique needs and circumstances.

What’s next?

There is a critical need for more research and support for people with disabilities and anxiety. While studies have shown that individuals with disabilities experience higher rates of anxiety, there is still much to be learned about the specific factors that contribute to this increased risk, as well as effective interventions and accommodations for managing anxiety in this population.

As a society, we must prioritize funding for research that explores the unique experiences of disabled individuals with anxiety, including anxiety's physical and psychological effects, the barriers to accessing effective treatment, and the impact of assistive technology and accommodations on anxiety management.

We must also work to increase access to mental health services and support for disabled individuals. This includes expanded coverage for mental health care under insurance plans, increased availability of accessible mental health resources and support groups, and improved training for mental health professionals to provide culturally responsive care to disabled individuals.

Additionally, we must work to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by disabled individuals, which can contribute to increased anxiety and social isolation. This can be accomplished through increased education and awareness efforts and policy changes that promote equal rights and opportunities for disabled individuals.

To effectively address the needs of disabled individuals with anxiety, it is critical that we prioritize their voices and lived experiences in our research and policy efforts. We must work together to create a society that values and supports all individuals' mental health and well-being, regardless of ability.