Depression is a common but serious illness that affects around 280 million people across the world, and awareness around it is only growing by the day. While more people today are opening up about their mental health illnesses and seeking help, there is still a lot of stigma around depression.
In fact, in many parts of the world talking about depression or any other mental health issues is still considered taboo. What’s more shocking is that while people with special needs are more susceptible to depression, many of them are not given due treatment in time or even diagnosed early on.
Let’s take a deeper look at depression in people with special needs and how staying active and engaged with their community may help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Depression in People with Special Needs
A medical illness that may arise due to various factors, depression can have far-reaching effects including the risk of social and cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, and suicidal tendencies.
Symptoms include irritability, aggression, anxiety, insomnia, excessive sleeping, loss of appetite, weight gain/loss, lack of concentration, and decision-making skills, lack of confidence, disinterest in activities, social withdrawal, suicidal ideation, self-harm, among others.
It is therefore becoming increasingly important to not only deliver medical care to specially-abled people on time, but also increase their engagement within their families and communities. This will give them a feeling of connectedness to others and help them overcome depression and suicidal tendencies.
While depression is prevalent among those with special needs, it is even more common among the specially-abled female population. Depression also affects children with special needs. Hence, it is more important than ever to normalize depression and its treatment, especially among people with special needs.
Why Do People with Disabilities Have Depression?
It is important to understand why people with disabilities have depression in order to create a better healthcare system for them. While the causes of depression are common among those with and without special needs, such as loss of a loved one, loss of a job and so on, certain factors particularly affect people with special needs. Listed below are some of the factors that lead to depression in people with special needs:
People with disabilities have always been looked down upon by “normal” people. As a society, we tend to marginalize people with special needs and they are often considered a liability or burden by families, friends, the education system, and even by potential employers.
Most often people with special needs are pitied, sidelined, and avoided, if not outrightly ridiculed and shunned. Lack of information, faulty perceptions, feelings of superiority, etc. have propagated negative stereotypes towards specially abled people by individuals and the society at large.
People with special needs are often victims of physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. Abuse of children with special needs is more common and happens over a longer period, as they are more vulnerable than the adult population. Those with an inability to speak or communicate are at greater risk of depression and suicide, as they may not even be able to understand what’s happening to them, much less express their situation to caregivers or seek help from the legal system.
People with special needs often find it harder to secure employment or gain access to other sources of financial aid due to social stigma and stereotypes. This can lead them down the rung of financial independence and into impoverishment and depression.
Loss of Identity
Due to social stigma, stereotypes, abuse, poverty and lack of or limited social connection, people with special needs often suffer from a loss of identity and self-esteem. This results in depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Lack of Healthcare Access
People with disabilities have a greater need for healthcare access, especially those suffering from depression. But lack of healthcare either due to neglect or inaccessibility can lead them further down the rabbit hole of mental illnesses, putting them at greater risk of suicide.
The following approaches are recommended to help people with special needs overcome depression and live a happier, more fulfilling life:
Greater Involvement of Loved Ones
Families and friends of those with special needs will have to pay more attention to their wards and look for signs or symptoms of depression. They will have to be cognizant of even the slightest changes in the behavior of the differently-abled person, especially those unable to communicate clearly. People with special needs, too, must be encouraged to communicate to their loved ones when they can about their stressors and condition. Talking to others with special needs can also help in battling depression.
Frequent medical check-ups can help diagnose mental illnesses at the earliest and enable people with special needs to receive the medical attention and treatment they need.
Hands-on Approach by Healthcare Professionals
Doctors treating persons with special needs need to be more proactive in scheduling regular check-ups for their patients. They should also be willing to visit the residence of their patients, if possible, and try to understand their medical needs. This will go a long way in ensuring that depression in people with special needs is addressed early on.
Increased Social Engagement
The society and community must take more efforts to study depression and understand the plight of those with special needs suffering from depression and other mental disorders. They must create the right infrastructure and support system that can support the condition and well-being of people with special needs. People, especially children, must be encouraged to spend time with such individuals and interact with them with compassion, understanding, patience, and grace instead of shunning and sidelining them. The specially-abled population, too, must come forward and increase their engagement with their community so as to foster a deeper sense of connection, purpose, and camaraderie.
Use of Mobility Aids
People suffering from disabilities usually do not go out and interact with others in their community due to lack of mobility. Mobility aids such as mobility scooters, manual and power wheelchairs are a wonderful way to enhance personal mobility and move around the neighborhood or even far-off areas. By using such mobility aids, people with special needs can go out and socialize more with others and quell the feelings of insecurity or inferiority that may accompany disability.
An extensive overhaul of social attitudes and infrastructure is needed on the part of all stakeholders of the society to help people with special needs lead a better, happier, and emotionally fulfilled life. Collective efforts on a regular and sustained basis is the key to social transformation.