Depression as a Disability

Creative Commons photo.

This is going to sound stupid, I think, but I didn’t realize until recently that major depression, or clinical depression, is a disability. I don’t know why this hasn’t clicked with me before (it definitely should have!), and I can’t go into specifics about where that, “Oh, duh!” moment came from, but suffice it to say, I was flabbergasted!

For the record, I want to make this abundantly clear: I’m not looking at myself differently, or as “less than” because depression is a disability, I have depression, ergo, I’m depressed.

I’m more so saying, it surprised me when I learned this, even though it shouldn’t have because it’s one of those obvious things, or at least, it should have been.

Because I don’t know, I’ve been on 75 mg of venlafaxine (commonly known as Effexor XR) once-a-day, and prior to that, I took a different antidepressant, since January 2021, as well as regularly seeing a therapist (expect an update on that soon) since June 2021, and it never occurred to me to think of myself as disabled or of having a disability because of my depression (and anxiety, for that matter).

However, this does make sense. I’ve long thought of mental illness as tantamount to physical illness — in so doing, we lessen the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking help because you would seek help for a broken leg, why not something amiss with your brain (not to mention, the mental manifests as physical symptoms)? — and there is obviously a litany of physical ailments that would constitute a disability, so it makes sense that mental illness would, too.

Whether a mental or physical issue, the point is the same: It interferes with one’s day-to-day living in some capacity to which, at times, accommodations may be necessary, especially in the workplace.

Interestingly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (passed in 1990) defines an individual with a disability as, “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

That emphasis is mine. I thought the latter sentence was the interesting one: someone who is perceived by others as having such an impairment because for the most part, those with mental illnesses can’t be perceived by others as having a mental illness!

Even though the ADA does not itself have an exhaustive list of disabilities, some of the conditions considered a disability include deafness, blindness, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, partial or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheel chair, autism, cerebral palsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

Something also considered a disability under the ADA, which I’m not sure if a lot of people know this or not, are substance use disorders, otherwise known as diagnosable drug and alcohol addictions.

From my relatively quick Googling, there actually is not that much deeper analysis about depression as a disability. It’s rather basic from what I’ve already said: If it’s impairing your life, particularly to the extent of being unable to work, then it’s a disability, and you may even be able to claim it via the Social Security Administration for financial help, if you’re an American. The latter is what most of the articles pertain to: how to go about doing that, if necessary. And I should note, it seems like, if I’m understanding all of this correctly, depression is a disability inasmuch as one legally claims it as a disability.

So, outside of a legal sense and trying to claim it for financial reasons via Social Security, am I disabled? Am I … culturally disabled? I mean, that it still interferes with one’s life when untreated still “counts” beyond a legal sense.

I suppose one of the reasons I never thought about myself as disabled or having a disability with respect to depression is because even during the worst of it — when I was thinking about suicide on a regular, constant basis — I was still “functioning” in the sense of going to work, paying my bills and taking care of myself and my living environment. Fortunately, I’ve never had the kind of depression that really does knock you down and incapacitate you to such an extent that you can’t work.

That said, maybe I would have gotten better sooner, if I had taken X amount of time off from working to focus on getting better? And supplemented that time with disability from Social Security? I don’t know how all of that works or not, but yeah, it’s an interesting thought.

To be honest, I don’t have some sort of “point” to make here. Rather I’m writing to you to let you transparently know how silly I am that I never realized depression was a “recognized” disability.

But I am glad that our society recognizes it as such to offer protections under the law.

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