How can you support the mental health of a person with a physical disability?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, about 4.4 million people in Australia have a disability.  A disability is defined as a total or partial loss of a person’s bodily or mental functions. 

Disability is a multidimensional concept involving the interaction between a health condition and environmental and personal factors. There is a connection between disability and mental health, and it is a complex link that, in many cases, has more to do with the social, ideological, and barriers that disabled people encounter in societies than with the disease or injury itself. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, people with a disability experience higher levels of psychological distress than those without a disability. A person with a disability can enjoy a rich, full and joyful life regardless of their challenges and difficulties, and mental health plays a key role here. As such, one of the most important ways to help someone with a disability is to recognize the signs of mental distress. 

Common signs of poor mental health

The signs of poor mental health are very different from person to person, but some of the most common early symptoms are:

  • Sleep or appetite changes
  • Mood changes
  • Withdrawal
  • Drop in functioning
  • Problems thinking
  • Increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch
  • Apathy
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Illogical thinking
  • Nervousness
  • Unusual behaviour
  • Suicidal thoughts

When talking about mental health, it is essential to remember that stigma may pose a significant barrier to seeking help. If you suspect that a loved one is experiencing some of these symptoms, you may want to seek professional help with initial evaluation of their case, rather than trying to solve the problem yourself. Once you have a diagnosis, it is time to learn about the mental illness, its symptoms and signs, and how to start helping them.

Contributing factors to the onset of mental illness in people living with disabilities

Each person and every disability is unique. However, there are some common reasons for which a disability may make an individual vulnerable to mental health problems.

Loss of purpose in life

This is a common problem, especially for adults who have developed their disability in adulthood. Many people work towards a particular life or career goal. Acquiring a disability that no longer allows them to work in that career or pursue their goals significantly influences their life path, and can also affect their sense of purpose. A health problem that leads to loss of employment or loss of purpose can easily open the door to depression and other mental health problems.

Low self-esteem

The self-esteem of people with disabilities is sometimes affected by multiple factors, ranging from not meeting the demands of appearance to failing at school or work, not receiving support from their own family, or being socially isolated, among others.

People with a disability often suffer from the reaction of others to them, which contributes to lower self-esteem and a tendency to take less care of themselves, which can subsequently make social inclusion more difficult.

If your loved one has low self-esteem, you can encourage them to maximise the positive and minimise the negative and assist them in focusing more on their abilities rather than on their limitations. It is also important to work on self-appreciation, trying to see the positive aspects of their life.

Challenges in adapting their lives

Having to adapt their life to a new reality, or adapting it as the disability progresses, coupled with the difficulty of a world not always suited for those with disabilities, can lead to a constant state of anger or frustration and can lead to mental health issues for the individual.

Although everyone experiences sadness, anger or frustration sometimes, it is important not to get stuck in these emotions for too long because eventually these emotions can lead to harmful behavioural problems and decreased self-esteem, and can trigger isolation and result in the development of conditions such as anxiety or depression.

An important aspect of the environment for people with a disability is other people’s attitudes, so positivity and support from the people surrounding a disabled person is critical to their life and plays a significant role in helping them live a happy and fulfilling life.

How to support your loved one who is experiencing mental health issues

Seek professional help

Friends, family members, and caregivers of a person with a disability are the first line of defence from depression and other mental health conditions. Often, people with disabilities receive treatment for their physical disability, but their emotional or spiritual needs are not addressed.

If you want to help your loved one, the first step is to seek professional help. Find out where and how to get mental health treatment and other support services and resources, including counselling or therapy.

Early comprehensive assessment and treatment can prevent symptoms from developing into a more severe illness. Professional help includes individual or family counselling, professional or educational support, and group or individual therapy.

Suggest activities that nourish their mind and body

blankIn addition to therapy and professional help, there are several activities and sports that can be included in the life of any person that have physical, mental, and emotional benefits. These activities are adaptable to the person’s needs and abilities, and can include relaxation and breathing techniques, meditation, stretching, yoga, or even swimming.

Yoga, for example, helps to tone muscles, increase flexibility and lung capacity, allows greater body and emotional self-recognition, improves confidence and self-esteem, promotes the development of the whole body, and helps generate endorphins. Swimming helps to improve mental health while supporting independence, improves heart health, and relieves pressure on joints and muscles. Meditation and relaxation techniques help reduce physical symptoms and improve overall mental wellness.

Therefore, including these activities in the routine can bring significant benefits and easily adapt to all types of people, ages, and abilities. These activities can be practised alone or in groups, so you can accompany your loved one to do them and enjoy all the benefits as well.

Incorporate tasks into their routine that make them happy

Physical activity helps improve independence and a sense of empowerment, as do other activities. Some things you can suggest to your loved one with a disability to improve their mental wellbeing include volunteering, developing a new hobby, or adopting a pet.

A support animal or a pet can provide companionship, help them maintain a routine and give them a purpose. Pets are proven to positively impact people with disabilities, helping them feel less lonely, to socialise, to be active, and to have a responsibility. Sometimes, it is possible to have a support animal, which will also help make your life easier.

A new hobby, such as learning a language, photography, cooking, or sewing, can have a therapeutic effect and help with socialisation, opening the mind and exploring new parts of their personality. All in all, it’s about finding activities that make their life fulfilling and satisfying.

Help them connect with others

blankSocial isolation is common in people living with disabilities and is mainly caused by lack of access, social exclusion, and social comparison. Isolation is an unhealthy habit, and is often in response to a mental health problem such as depression or low self-esteem, and it causes a worsening of other symptoms.

If your loved one is currently suffering from isolation, the first step is to talk to them about it. Listen and be compassionate, not judgmental. Seek professional help while offering them your support to help them.

You can start by making simple plans to go out with that person. If a party or a restaurant can be overwhelming for them, try quieter, simpler plans such as going for a walk, going to a museum, or visiting a local park. Even basic interaction like this can help to lift their spirits.

Another important action is to find a community. Connecting with other people is essential, and any kind of social connection will be beneficial. Support groups are a great possibility as they will meet new people in similar situations. This is one of the best ways to combat loneliness and isolation, as they will participate in a group of people facing similar challenges, which will help them feel less alone. In addition, meeting other people in similar situations will help them learn more about living with their condition and give them a safe place to share their struggles.

Rely on professional help

Care services for people with disabilities can help improve and maintain a person’s physical and mental health.

At The CareSide we offer compassionate Disability support services, and working with hundreds of families and individuals with disabilities. We take special care to make sure that the people we provide services to are happy, including:

  • The caregiver will always be the same. Once you choose your caregiver, it will always be the same person.
  • Our carers will arrive at the time you choose. We know that time is important, so we will be there when you need us, and you won’t have to wait for us.
  • We are flexible and understanding. Whatever your needs are, we are here to meet them and make you feel at your best.

Whether you need help with activities of daily living, therapy, communication, social or community support, or skilled nursing care, The CareSide is here for you.

Contact us and we will be glad to help you with your disability support questions and needs.

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