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Are Mental Illnesses Disabilities?

‘Mental illness’ is an umbrella term that covers several different conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia, and anxiety to personality disorders. Knowing this, it’s important to recognise that one person’s experience with mental illness can be very different from another’s. While some may be able to continue their life with relatively little impact, others may have their functionality altered significantly. A person’s ability to function may also change over time. Therefore, there is no ‘hard and fast’ answer to this question.

A condition may be considered a disability when an individual’s ability to function or participate fully in everyday life is strongly affected. While disability is often considered to be caused by physical conditions, it can also be a result of mental illness. The Australian Government’s Department of Health has claimed that mental illness is the largest cause of disability in Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission has also confirmed that mental illnesses may be considered a disability according to the Disability Discrimination Act. 

There are many facets involved with having a mental illness that can lead to disability. Amongst others, challenges often arise from its unpredictable nature, the stress experienced when trying to keep a condition confidential, and medication side effects. These factors may lead to difficulties in maintaining consistent employment or engaging in schooling, or forming meaningful relationships with others. 

Despite this, it is important to recognise that people with a disability can still live fulfilling lives. Government and community services are available for support and advocacy. Additionally, having a mental illness does not necessarily mean that you have a disability. Your psychologist and general practitioner will be able to assist you to determine the degree that your functioning has been affected, and if needed can refer you to relevant support services. 


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