According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults with disabilities report mental health distress five times as often as adults without disabilities (CDC, 2020).1
For college students with disabilities and mental health concerns, there is a multitude of barriers that may stand in the way of simply living life. Does every building on campus have an elevator or entry ramp? Do all the signs on campus have braille embossments? Do teachers know how to accommodate for visual or hearing impairments in online settings? Is the process of receiving mental health help accessible for all? Are counselors on campus aware of how mental health can be affected by various forms of disability?
People with disabilities make up the largest population of minoritized communities as almost one in every four adults has some type of disability.2 Disabilities are unique to each person; no two people with the same diagnosed disability share the same experience. They can be mental, emotional, physical, or intellectual and are not always physically noticeable to others. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disability is defined as “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activity.” 3
Just like other social identities (race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.), having a disability can sometimes be met with a social stigma attached to having that disability. When the prejudice, oppression, and exclusion of people with disabilities is occurring, we call it ableism. Similar to other systems of oppression, ableism can take place between individuals or be woven into how society functions. Discrimination can be an additional barrier to people with disabilities who already face physical, social, or mental challenges due to their disability. Beliefs, avoidance, discomfort, and lack of authentic acceptance of people with disabilities can contribute to poor mental health among people with disabilities. In fact, the way society reacts to disabilities may actually be more influential on someone’s mental health than the disabling condition itself.
Similar to disabilities, mental illness can also be stigmatizing due to a lack of understanding or a fear of the topic. When someone has both a disability and a mental illness, it is important to recognize that this person is doubly stigmatized. For people with physical disabilities, physical health is often prioritized over mental health which can result in mental health issues being overlooked or dismissed. Furthermore, disabilities that affect the way someone communicates can be an additional barrier to not only communicating mental health concerns but also finding adequate mental health care that is accommodating to their needs.
Illinois State University offers a few sources of support for students with disabilities. Student Access and Accommodation Services (SAAS) is available to all students with disabilities to facilitate accommodating students’ needs. They help coordinate services such as assigning notetakers in classes, appointing a sign language interpreter, accessible seating, exam accommodations, and more. They can also provide accessible parking and accommodations for University Housing and Campus Dining Services. SAAS can be reached by visiting their website: https://studentaccess.illinoisstate.edu/. Student Disability Network is a registered student organization on campus devoted to “enhance advocacy, encourage disability awareness, and bring together students with and without disabilities to form relationships and connect.” Additionally, Student Counseling Services offers free individual or group therapy to all students at ISU. Check out their website to make an appointment or explore other mental health resources: https://counseling.illinoisstate.edu/.
1. People with disabilities. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/People-with-Disabilities
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 30). The Mental Health of people with disabilities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/features/mental-health-for-all.html
3. What is the definition of disability under the Ada? ADA National Network. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada