Coping With Depression and Disability

As with any significant loss, entering the world of disability requires mental adjustment. When the magnitude of the adjustment surpasses the social, emotional, and cognitive resources of the individual, depression can set in, further complicating disability.1

Recently Disabled

For the recently disabled, depression is very common. They have gone from being able-bodied to perhaps being someone who has to depend on assistance from others. They may be struggling with their memories of being able-bodied and trying to accept their current physical or mental limitations.

Acknowledging a new disability isn’t always easy; for many, it can take years to fully accept that they are disabled and can no longer do some, or many, of the things they once enjoyed doing. It is normal for them to feel sad or angry as they are grieving the loss of their former life.

Disabled at Birth

Some individuals are disabled at birth. They may have a disability that was a result of issues during gestation or childbirth, or a genetic problem may be the cause of their disability.


While some may argue that being disabled from birth somehow makes things easier, such as developing coping mechanisms from an early age, others do not share the same view. Those who are disabled at an early age may spend years struggling to find acceptance with their peers and teachers, have difficulty forming new relationships, and have trouble transitioning to adulthood and finally landing a job.


Signs of Depression

Many individuals have wonderful support systems in place, such as friends and family who help them navigate the rough times. Just as many, however, lack the support systems they need, especially if they are newly disabled living in an able-bodied world.


It is not unusual to occasionally have a “why me?” moment when facing difficulties in life, especially when a disability seems to be causing the difficulty. However, when an individual is feeling like the world is against them all the time, they may be experiencing clinical depression, not merely “the blues.”


The National Institute of Mental Health reports that if at least five of the following symptoms are experienced for most of the day, almost every day, for at least two weeks, they could be suffering from clinical depression:2


Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism


Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

Decreased energy or fatigue

Moving or talking more slowly

Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still

Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

Appetite and/or weight changes

Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Getting Help

Often, disabled people have their disability treated, but they don’t have their emotional or spiritual needs addressed.


Medical doctors are usually not licensed therapists, and therefore may not be aware that their patient is experiencing an emotional problem. For this reason, patients who are able to need to be their own advocates. This means speaking up and letting a primary care physician or specialist know you’re feeling sad or depressed and that you need someone to talk to.


Caregivers also need to be aware of the disabled person’s emotional needs and be on the lookout for the warning signs of depression. A caregiver may be the first line of defense in helping a person suffering quietly from depression.


It is normal to feel sad or even depressed for a few days over events in our lives, but sadness or depression that lasts longer than a few days requires assistance from a primary care physician or certified counselor.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, call your local suicide hotline immediately or dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or the deaf hotline using your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. Alternatively, seek help at a local hospital’s emergency room right away.


Source: Very Well Health 



By Charlotte Gerber Updated on October 19, 2023

 Medically reviewed by Melissa Bronstein, LICSW

 Fact checked by Angela Underwood