Mental health challenges and disorders have many different signs and symptoms and can look different in different people. They can impact how a person thinks, feels and behaves. They affect people of all ages, races and social classes. In a country like ours where awareness about mental health is quite low, it becomes even more difficult to deal with these challenges. We have built a world around us that serves the majority. That means that any individual different than the average, such as the visually impaired, the hearing impaired and the mute face difficulties because they’re not what is considered to be average. This article aims to shed light upon the challenges they face just by living life and being the odd ones out.

Having to deal with sight loss or low vision is merely one of the challenges that the visually impaired are facing when living life. The mental health problems that arise from sight loss are too often sidelined, leaving people to cope with depression and anxiety on their own. Sight loss can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on people’s lives, with fear, isolation, loss of self-esteem and depression having an impact. Many differently abled people had not been offered mental health support such as social prescribing, counselling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them manage their long-term condition. Visual impairment is not just a physical condition, it can have a profound psychological impact and people should expect to receive emotional support when they need it.

People shouldn’t be left to cope with emotional distress on their own. Sight loss affects people in different ways – that’s why person-centered support is so important. One to one counselling, social prescribing and peer support groups can help people overcome their fears and anxieties and help them feel more in control of their lives.

The differently abled community struggles daily with stigma, prejudice, and communication, but that’s not all: medical studies have found that deaf people suffer from mental health issues at about twice the rate of the general population, and also have real problems accessing needed mental health services. The mental health issues common in this community include depression, anxiety and severe illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Mental illnesses are compounded in the community by difficulties communicating with care providers — researchers have found that lip-reading isn’t adequate, interpreters who know sign language are scarce, and many diagnostic tools depend on knowledge that’s not common among those who are deaf.

Children who cannot hear have trouble communicating with their families are four times more likely to be affected by mental health disorders than children who have few or no problems communicating with family members. Bullying of differently abled children also may be common at school, and deaf boys and girls are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault. While it will be difficult to solve these problems, some solutions are possible. Hearing-impaired people should be encouraged to consider careers in the mental health field, and mental health professionals should secure more translators to work with the mentally ill.

The National Association of the Deaf notes that deaf people have the right to push for referrals to mental health professionals who have experience working with those who are deaf or are hard of hearing. The organization also says that deaf people have the right to communicate “in the language and mode of communication that is effective for you,” and to clearly understand the diagnosis and recommendations for their treatment. Clinicians who have little or no experience working with the hearing-impaired should use extreme caution and seek second opinions when diagnosing the deaf. In addition, research and effort are needed to bridge the language barriers which now make it so difficult to communicate.

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of people. In such tough times it is very important to take care of oneself. Some of the self-care tips that can help improve your life include:

  • Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health provider before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get mental health treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).
  • Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    ○ Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate ○ Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals ○ Exercise regularly ○ Get plenty of sleep ○ Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. During times of increased social distancing, people can still maintain social connections and care for their mental health. Phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel socially connected, less lonely, or isolated.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

I hope this article resonates and helps the people belonging to the differently abled community and sensitizes others towards the challenges faced by these people.

Take care of your mental health 🙂

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