Is Mental Health A Disability?

The National Institute of Mental Health Disorders has reported that: 

  • About 26% of Americans ages 18 and up suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year,
  • Nearly 10 % of Americans are struggling with a depressive illness such as: 
    • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
    • Bipolar disorder 
    • Dysthymia (a chronic mood disorder listed in the spectrum of depressive disorders, also called persistent depressive disorder).

Is Mental Illness A Disability?

By itself, mental illness is not a disability? Still, there is a class of mental health disabilities called “psychiatric disabilities.” The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University refers to mental illnesses that substantially interfere with major life activities such as working.

In addition, the Social Security Administration has recognized several mental disorders that may cause long-term disability. These would qualify individuals for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. They include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • ADHD
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Drug addiction
  • Dysthymia
  • Mood disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Schizophrenia

What Is Meant By “Mental Health?”

When we talk about mental health, emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all included. Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Mental health also decides how you relate to others, deal with stress, and make choices.

Your mental health is important throughout your life–from childhood to adolescence, and on through adulthood. If you experience mental health problems at any point in your life, your mood, thinking, and behavior could be affected. Factors that add to mental health issues include:

  • Biological factors: genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences: abuse or trauma
  • History of mental health problems in the family

What Are Some Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems?

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about is dealing with a mental health problem, there are some early warning signs that might indicate a problem:

  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from people and usual activities
  • Little or no energy
  • Feeling indifferent like nothing matters
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Aches and pains with no explanation
  • Drinking, smoking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems with relationships
  • Unshakable thoughts and memories that you can’t get rid of
  • Believing things that aren’t true or hearing voices
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Struggling to perform daily tasks like going to work or school or taking care of your children

What Are Signs Of Good Mental Health?

A lack of mental illness isn’t a sign of good mental health. It means that you have a general feeling of well-being. You are feeling good and functioning well in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that good mental health is when you can: 

  • Cope with the normal stresses in your life
  • Work productively, and contribute to your community

Your mental health is probably good if you:

  • Are confident with new people or in new situations feel optimistic
  • Don’t always blame yourself, set goals for yourself
  • Feel good about yourself, and have good self-esteem

Having good mental health means feeling good. You have emotions that include happiness, love, or compassion and feel generally satisfied with life. Likewise, you have a feeling of belonging to a community and are making a contribution to society.

The Growing Mental And Behavioral Health Problem

One of the most undervalued and underserved areas of public health is the mental health area. Nearly 1 billion people are living with a mental health disorder. Also, 3 million people die every year from alcohol use disorder (AUD) and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And currently, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which is also having an effect on the mental health of some people

However, relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. Before the pandemic, access to quality, affordable mental health care was limited and now it has been disturbed even more.

How Widespread Is The Problem?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), mental and behavioral health disorders comprise several of the top causes of disabilities in established economies such as the United States. They include:

  • Major depression (also known as clinical depression)
  • Manic depression (also called bipolar disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Depressive Disorders

Occasionally, an individual will have more than one mental disorder at the same time. These are called comorbid conditions. If one of the disorders is a substance use disorder, it is called a dual diagnosis. Depressive illnesses often co-occur with substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

Approximately 9.5% of American adults each year will suffer from a depressive illness such as:

  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dysthymia 


  • Women are nearly twice as likely to have major depression as men
  • Women and men are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder
  • The average to develop major depression is in the mid-20s, but it can start at any age
  • Bipolar disorder affects about 2.6% of Americans 18 or older in a given year and the average age for the first manic episode is during the early 20s


The majority of people who commit suicide have a mental disorder. It is typically a depressive disorder or substance use disorder (SUD).

  • Four times as many men commit suicide than women. However, women attempt suicide more often than men. 
  • The highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are found in Caucasian men over the age of 85. But still, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young adults aged 15-24.

Anxiety Disorders

In a given year, about 18% of people aged 18-54 have an anxiety problem. Anxiety disorders include:

  • Panic disorder–usually appears in late adolescence or early adulthood
  • OCD–the onset is usually during childhood or adolescence
  • PTSD–symptoms typically start within 3 months of a traumatic event but may begin years later
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)–may begin at any time but the highest risk is between childhood and middle age.
  •  Social phobia—usually begins in childhood or adolescence.


  • Approximately 1% of all Americans are affected by schizophrenia
  • Typically, schizophrenia first appears in men during their late teens or early 20s. In women, the onset is usually during their 20s or early 30s

Why Should We Talk About Mental Health?

We need to talk about mental health because it’s just as important as physical health. Making the conversation about mental health more normal empowers people to talk and get the help they need.

Mind Or Body

Often, people divide “mind” or “body.” However, mental and physical health should not be thought of as separate. There are many ways that poor mental health has been shown to be harmful to physical health and vice versa. One example is the average life expectancy in the U.S. It has increased to 78.6 years but the average life expectancy for someone with a serious mental illness ranges from 49 to 60 years–25 to 30 years less than the general population.

Likewise, people with depression have a 40% higher risk of heart disease than the rest of the public. And suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34. Substance use disorders and mental illness are involved in 1 out of every 8 emergency room visits by adults.


If we don’t talk about mental health, we add to the stigma (shame) that surrounds it. Some of the harmful effects are:

  • Discrimination
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, or coworkers, etc.
  • Loss of opportunities for work, school, or social activities
  • Problems finding housing
  • Bullying and physical violence
  • Difficulty getting insurance that covers their treatment
  • The belief they’ll never succeed at some things and can’t improve their situation
  • Hesitation to seek help or professional treatment

Nearly 20% of all Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Sadly, less than half of those people will seek treatment.

What Is Emotional Health?

Your emotional health is a feature of mental health. It’s your ability to cope with both positive and negative emotions, including your awareness of them. People who are emotionally healthy have good coping skills for negative emotions. Also, they know when to contact a professional for help. 

Emotional wellness is linked to physical health. Individuals who experience large amounts of stress and negative emotions will sometimes develop other problems with their health. Although the problems are not directly caused by negative feelings, there are behaviors that can be influenced by negative emotions due to a lack of emotional regulation. Some people enjoy drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes as a way to deal with stress. But eventually, those habits put you at a greater risk for cancer, heart disease, or other illnesses.

Mental Illness And Emotional Wellness

However, bear in mind that an individual can experience mental illness or bad days and still have good emotional wellness. Many times, mental illnesses have deeper causes like chemical imbalance or trauma. Emotional health has more to do with:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Awareness
  • Coping skills

These strategies can be used by individuals with or without a mental illness.

Signs You’re Struggling With Your Emotional Health

Some warning signs that your emotional health needs to be taken care of include:

  • Isolating yourself from family, friends, or coworkers
  • Low energy
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Increased substance use
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lower work performance
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Neglecting personal hygiene

Tips For Taking Care Of Your Mental Health

Luckily for most of us, there are things that we can do to take care of our own mental health and to help others who may need support.

  1. Keep Informed–Listen to advice and recommendations from local and national authorities.
  2.  Have a Routine.–Stick to daily routines as much as you can or create new ones.
  • Go to bed and get up around the same time each day
  • Keep up with your personal hygiene
  • Eat healthy meals at regularly scheduled times
  • Exercise regularly
  • Allow time for work and time to rest
  • Allow time for things that you enjoy
  1. Reduce newsfeeds to once or twice a day if they make you anxious or nervous
  2. Keep up with social contacts
  3. Limit alcohol and drug use
  • Limit what you drink or don’t drink at all
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs as a way to deal with anxiety, boredom, or isolation

Tips For Working On Your Emotional Health

Here are a few ways to maintain or improve your emotional health:

  • Live a balanced lifestyle

Try to maintain a balance between work and personal life, resting, and activity.

  • Stay connected

Plan regular shared time with family and friends.

  • Meditate

Meditation helps you be aware of your thoughts and emotions.

  • Be mindful about how you talk about yourself

Work on using positive words when talking about yourself and your thoughts will follow.

  • Set goals and celebrate achievements

Give yourself something to aim for and celebrate your accomplishments.

  • Practice moderation when using substances

Pay attention to whether you are using a substance more than usual and think about if there is an emotional cause for it.

  • Learn strategies for reacting to stress
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Know when to ask for help

Knowing when to reach out to a mental health professional for help is a good skill to have. You should also contact one if you have tried to improve your emotional health but you’re still not feeling quite right.

Find Your Balance At Little Creek Recovery

Are you struggling with a mental illness? If you are, then there is a good chance that you have turned to drugs or alcohol to try to ease or numb your symptoms. On the other hand, you may be using drugs and not even know that you have a mental illness. 

At Little Creek Recovery, we understand how the mental illnesses of substance use disorder and mental disorders connect and feed off each other. Mental illness and SUDs are treatable, and people with these mental disorders can and do live fulfilling productive, and happy lives. But the longer these conditions go untreated, the more severe they become.

We’re here to help answer the question, is mental illness a disability? Don’t wait any longer. Reach out to us today and together we can get you healthy–emotionally, mentally, and physically.



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