The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted an often-forgotten dimension of health promotion – the importance of mental well-being had been highlighted for everyone. And if so for persons without disabilities, how much more so for those with disabilities. Add the additional dimension of transitioning into adulthood, and it becomes clear that young people with disabilities need to be much stronger mentally than most of their peers without disabilities.
When Society burdens us with their Disability Stigma
People with impairments become disabled when society stops them from participating, belonging, and moving around freely. Impairments can include the inability to see, walk, hear, read and write, or speak. So you might have an impairment, but that doesn’t constitute a disability by itself.
But when a person acquires an impairment, they are often subjected to what we call ‘othering’, or ableism. And that simply means that society excludes them, demeans them, calls them names, withholds opportunities from them just because they have an impairment or what we often call a disability.
Mental health challenges occur when people internalise that ableism, that othering, the name-calling, the exclusion, the barriers, being seen as a burden or an object of pity. Having to do so much more just to be accepted causes challenges.
Internalising that ableism limits our aspirations and expectations of what we think we can achieve, how we feel about ourselves, and how we ultimately manage the restrictions that society throws at us. It suppresses our sense of self-worth and often buries our strengths deep inside of us. That’s why it’s even more critical for young people with disabilities to look after their mental well-being.
So what do we do as human beings when we are under attack?
The fight-or-flight response kicks in. We fight back, or we withdraw. And both reactions have mental health implications. Healthline describes the fight-flight-freeze response as a natural reaction of your body to danger. It’s a type of stress response that helps you react to perceived threats, like an oncoming car or growling dog, or in the experience of many people with disabilities, name-calling, and rejection. It is a survival instinct that our ancient ancestors developed many years ago.
But, as TRAILStoWelless describes, we, in fact, have 5 hardwired responses to trauma: fight, flight, freeze, flop, and friend.
- Fight – “It’s all your fault!” (Anger)
- Flight – “I’ve got to get out of here!” (Anxiety)
- Freeze – “I can’t.” (Overwhelmed)
- Flop – “It’s all my fault; It’s not worth it.” (Depressed)
- Friend – “Please help me! I can’t do it.” (Powerless)
Sometimes, the fight-flight-freeze response happens when non-threatening situations trigger the reaction. These overactive responses are more common in people who have experienced, among others, trauma and anxiety. So it becomes clear why just having an impairment can often cause that fight-or-flight reaction.
The question is, what are you doing to build resilience and adopt healthy lifestyles and habits.
Transitioning into Adulthood
Transitioning into adulthood is often an already tricky and challenging process for most of us. And if we throw in the additional mental baggage impairment brings about and the burdens society adds to that, we find that young people with disabilities need to be much stronger mentally to transition into joyful adults.
We need to mitigate the double whammy of uncertainty about becoming an adult and managing our disability by practising fierce kindness, understanding and using our character strengths, and developing daily positive affirmations and habits.
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