- “Disability” is a term and status that has been defined and redefined so much overtime that it can be confusing to understand what it even means.
- How mental illness and disability intersect is a relatively emergent conversation, and has been popularized in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- As this is an emerging conversation, it is important for you to take responsibility in your healthcare and understand what type of access to resources you are eligible for.
The role that ambiguity plays in oppressive structures is not coincidental. If we do not provide tools to define a certain person’s experience concretely, then the ability to intervene and assist becomes a great challenge. How our country has defined and redefined “disability” is a prime example of how ambiguity furthers and complicates oppression. Below are two definitions of “disability” that can be found in our society:
“A person is disabled under the Act if they can’t work due to a severe medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or result in death. The person’s medical condition(s) must prevent them from doing work that they did in the past, and it must prevent them from adjusting to other work.” (Social Security Act, 1935)
“A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.)
What stands out to you about these two definitions? What is similar or dissimilar about them? How would you define “disability”?
One of the major differences between these two definitions is underlying motivation to define them in the first place. For the SSA, the goal is to articulate who qualifies for government benefits due to their disability. On the other hand, the CDC offers a broader understanding of what a person with a disability might experience or feel limited by, as their motivation is information dispensation.
These definitions matter because they articulate how powerful social institutions are conceptualizing and understanding “disability.” In other words, these definitions determine who gets access to resources and who does not.
This begs the question, do people with mental health conditions fall under these definitions of “disability”? The short answer is yes, but that yes has a few footnotes. To learn more about mental health condition eligibility, please direct yourself to NAMI’s resource of SSDI and SSI.
Navigating state and federal benefits and access with a disability can be challenging and overwhelming work. You are responsible for seeking out information that could benefit you, but you do not have to bear the stress and confusion of that work alone.
Understanding our mental health conditions is a task that will present itself throughout our lives. As we change and grow and explore new corners of the world and of ourselves, our mental health will change as well. There will be times in our life where we need extra support, as there will be times when we are called on to be that extra support for others. State and federal benefits are not the end all/be all of support for those struggling with mental health, but they are part of the picture and a necessary part of the conversation. How do these benefits help those struggling? How can these benefits be transformed and garner a greater impact? How can we advocate for these shifts in meaningful, productive and relational ways?