Time to Talk: An Honest Conversation About Disabilities and Mental Health During the Pandemic

BY Menachem Rephun – Creative Spirit Communications Manager, Self Advocate

Mental Health During the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has become a major mental health crisis for the disabilities community, with millions still struggling with isolation and restricted access to vital services. During National Suicide Prevention Month, Creative Spirit is seeking to jumpstart a long overdue, no-nonsense conversation about improving and safeguarding mental health for people with disabilities both during and post-Covid, and how individuals with disabilities should never be made to feel marginalized or looked down on for who they are, especially when it comes to employment. 

To spearhead that effort, we’re coaching and mentoring our candidates to improve self-esteem and collaborating one-on-one with employers to broaden their sensitivity and awareness. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which we view as an opportunity to eradicate stigma and misconceptions surrounding disability. This encompasses conditions like bipolar disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and others commonly referred to as “invisible disabilities.” Devin Boyle, a senior consultant at Wheelhouse Group with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, notes in a recent article for GovernmentExecutive.com that “conversations about mental health support in the workplace are becoming commonplace and government agencies and contractors are making significant efforts to support employees’ mental health and people with mental health disabilities.” Boyle also notes that despite the protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “eight in 10 workers say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment for a mental health condition.” Employers can change this by drawing on everything from self-education about varying types of mental health disabilities and the accommodations that can be provided, to participating in campaigns supporting mental health awareness, pledging to be stigma-free, sharing messages with staff about Mental Health Awareness Month, and participating in October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Boyle also recommends that employers create open communication channels and include employees with invisible disabilities in their messaging about inclusion. 

Linda Fisk, CEO, and co-founder of LeadHERship Global, an organization dedicated to supporting and empowering women through the development of leadership skills, has also acknowledged the critical role of inclusion.  

“Today, one of the single best indicators of an exceptional work environment is a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Fisk wrote in a recent article for Forbes.com. “Those suffering from invisible disabilities should be offered the same considerations and protections as all other disabilities. And no person should be discriminated against because of disability, whether it is hidden or visible.” Fisk also astutely  points out that smart, innovative leaders take invisible disabilities into consideration and “re-configure diversity and inclusion programs to meet the needs of all and become sensitive to the growing population suffering from invisible disabilities.” Speaking directly to employers, Fisk offers a reminder that that commitment to diversity and inclusion can benefit their organizations by introducing new perspectives and providing a competitive advantage. 

During Covid-19, workplace inclusion has acquired even greater significance, as accessible, accommodating workplaces, where employees with disabilities feel included, will greatly benefit mental health. If a friend, loved one, or co-worker with a disability is experiencing depression, don’t hesitate to reach out and connect. The Depression Project, an organization founded by brothers Danny and Matthew Baker to help individuals cope with and overcome depression, offers clear explanations of depression, and how to communicate sensitively with those who have it. Conway Medical Center offers advice on managing the emotional stress of Covid in an article that can be read here: https://bit.ly/3CeQGiu. This pandemic has presented a positive challenge for all of us: to be kinder, more inclusive, and more understanding at work, at school, and in our personal lives. If you have a disability and are searching for inclusion and understanding, Creative Spirit is here to provide support at https://www.creativespirit-us.org/.              

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