The word "disability" can be used in a variety of contexts, and some mental health conditions can fall into a grey area in which it is unclear whether mental health conditions qualify as disabilities.
For Accessing Services From An Organization
If you are seeking support from an organization that serves people with disabilities, it is prudent to check with the organization. Many organizations will have a statement on their website clarifying their use of the term "disability". If they don't, you can contact a representative to find out.
Relevant questions include: (1) Does your organization work with physical disabilities exclusively, or do you include mental health and learning disabilities? (2) What definition of disability do you use?
For Applying For Disability Benefits
If you are unable to work, then you likely fit the description of "disabled" as defined under the relevant legal bodies. However, if you are unsure whether you qualify, then you should speak to your therapist or doctor.
For Public Access With A Service Dog
In order to be granted access to public spaces with a service dog, you should meet the requirements of having a disability as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Acts (ADA). If you don't meet these requirements, then you may be denied entry to spaces where animals are not allowed.
For Other Contexts
For the purpose of general conversation and other contexts, "disability" typically refers to any condition that is severe enough to impact your daily functioning. Some people with moderate to severe mental health conditions may identify with this term, while others may not.
The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is an equal opportunity law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability and is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Under the ADA, a disability is defined as "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."
For more information on the Americans With Disabilities Act, to file a complaint, or to read the ADA in Spanish, click here.
If you are currently unable to work due to a mental health condition, talk to your doctor and/or therapist about applying for disability benefits.
If your mental health conditions inhibits daily tasks, you may benefit from a service dog. Service dogs can benefit people with disabilities such as anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, autism, and dissociative disorders. To find out more, look below under "Other Resources".
If you don't require a dog to perform specific trained tasks but would benefit from an animal for emotional support (usually a dog or cat), look at the information below on emotional support animals (ESA).
Places of work are required to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. If you are struggling at work, you may consider disclosing your condition to your employer and requesting an accommodation that would allow you to better function in your workplace.
If you are concerned that you are experiencing discrimination due to your mental health condition, you can look at the links below under "Other Resources" and the link above regarding the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In this video by Living Well With Schizophrenia, Lauren shares her experience as someone with schizoaffective disorder of forced treatment and coercion, as well as academic studies done on this controversial and important topic.
Find out more on whether you qualify for disability benefits and how you can apply.
Click on the button below to read more about service dogs for psychiatric disabilities, how to obtain a service dog, and the legal protection for service dogs/medical alert dogs.
Learn more about the benefits of animals on mental health as well as the legal accommodations for emotional support animals.
Find out what to do if you think you are being discriminated against in the workplace due to a mental health condition.
Learn more about the current status of mental health rights from Mental Health America.
This book by Elyn R. Saks, professor of law and psychiatry, examines the difficult and controversial topic of involuntary treatment for serious mental illness. Saks is not only a professor of law and psychiatry but also a woman who has lived with schizophrenia her entire adult life.
Saks is not only a professor of law and psychiatry but also a woman who has lived with schizophrenia her entire adult life. In his book Saks examines ethical issues of informed consent to treatment in the context of therapy and psychoanalysis.
This handbook offers advice and insight for family members who are trying to advocate for their loved one with a mental illness who has come into contact with law enforcement.
If you are looking into getting an emotional support animal, check our the Psychological Disability Service Center.