December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This observation of this day is a way of promoting understanding and awareness of disability issues. It also strives to gain support for the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities, as well as how it can impact mental health.

People with disabilities have long faced discrimination and exclusion from society. Until the mid-twentieth century, those with disabilities were routinely institutionalized- many from infancy, as disability was regarded as something shameful.

Currently, one out of every five adults in the United States has a disability, and many of them have what is known as an “invisible disability.”

mental health

Invisible disabilities are prevalent and can impact mental health

Invisible disabilities are typically mental, neurological, or physical conditions that aren’t always as apparent yet can still profoundly impact those who live with them. They are also some of the most commonly diagnosed conditions today. Examples of invisible disabilities include:

  • Depression

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Dyslexia

  • Chronic pain disorders

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Some autoimmune disorders

  • Heart conditions

  • Diabetes

  • Digestive disorders

Hidden disabilities can also include hearing or vision impairment, as those disabilities are not always immediately apparent.

The challenges of living with an invisible disability

Invisible disabilities can affect all aspects of a person’s life; home, school, and employment. The disability can impact their ability to function and is often made worse because since their disability is not glaringly obvious, they are often gaslit, and their suffering is minimized.

In addition to the severe symptoms of chronic, invisible illnesses, people living with these conditions also experience frustration, embarrassment, and guilt. Despite the gains we’ve made with disability rights, there is still a stigma surrounding disability, and ableism is still prevalent in our society.

Ableism is the discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to be disabled. This type of discrimination can be blatant, such as using accessible parking spots when you don’t need them, or subtle- like using terms such as “retarded”, “psycho,” and “ spaz.” Ableism is one of the most common types of discrimination because people often aren’t even aware that they’re derogatory.

Common misconceptions about invisible disabilities

People who live with invisible disabilities frequently have to deal with misconceptions about their condition. Here are some of the most common ones:

“It’s all in your head.”

“Just get enough rest- you’ll feel better.”

“You look fine- it can’t be that bad.”

Many people living with invisible disabilities have learned to manage their symptoms. Some may even “mask” their symptoms to get through the day and then fall apart when they get home because the effort is physically and mentally exhausting.

Symptoms of invisible illness can ebb and flow. A person can have several “good” days and then have a flare-up of their condition that renders them incapable of doing much. However, some have learned to cope with the symptoms to do what they need to do.

You can help promote the rights and well-being of people with invisible disabilities such as mental and behavioral health disorders by helping to stop the stigma. Educating yourself and others to promote understanding and acceptance goes a long way in supporting those that live with these conditions.

Another way to support someone with an invisible disability is to encourage them to seek treatment if needed. At Serene Health, we offer several behavioral health and mental health services. We also have appointments available seven days a week from our telehealth platform so that you can speak to a therapist online from the location of your choice. Call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment.