A psychosocial disability occurs when a mental illness becomes pervasive and disabling. According to a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017), the term has to do with “actual or perceived impairment”- that is that the concept deals not only with the challenges persons with these disabilities face as a consequence of having this type of disability but also the stigma that society sometimes attaches to it. Often misunderstood, it is important to raise awareness about such mental health conditions. This is the purpose of commemorative occasions such as Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month, which takes place in July 2019. For this year’s annual campaign, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) has elected to adopt the theme “Psychosocial Disability and Identity.”
According to Booth (2000) disability in a socio-cultural context can be defined as "a barrier to participation of people with impairments or chronic illnesses arising from an interaction of the impairment or illness with discriminatory attitudes, cultures, policies or institutional practices" (Booth, 2000).
According to James (2015), “In psychology, identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (self-identity) or group (particular social category or social group).
Identity affects how kind or unkind a person is to themselves, their interactions with other members of society and their actions or inactions regarding aspects such as careers, education and relationships. Disability is something to take into consideration when a person formulates how they view themselves and their consequent behavioural patterns. In terms of how a disability may fit into these perceptions and consequent life choices, Murugami (2009) articulates that a person with a disability need not construct their identity in terms of impairment alone, but rather is capable of doing so independently of their impairment while accepting the reality of the impairment.
Disability is not something by which a person should be bound. However, it is important that a person accepts their disability. This will enable them to manage their disability appropriately. There is much that can be done to manage a psychosocial disability, including eating healthily, exercising, complying with treatments and how a person sees themselves is a determining factor in how they treat themselves. Having a disability should not be seen as an insurmountable challenge and a person should know that they are so much more than the challenges they face.
Unfortunately there exists stigma in society about psychosocial disability. Individuals with these mental health conditions are often seen as unpredictable and dangerous and are thus often excluded socially and in settings such as the workplace. Corrigan and Watson (2002) set out that there are two types of stigma- “public stigma” and “self-stigma.” The former deals with the perceptions and actions of society and the latter with how people internalise the stigma against them and internalise it. These authors cite people with psychosocial disabilities as being “doubly challenged” because they have to deal not only with a disability but also with society’s unfair treatment.
How a person identifies with their disability will determine how and if they share their diagnosis with the people around them. Rohini, Fulginiti, Brekke and Rice (2017) highlight the benefits of disclosure, citing that it promotes good mental health. Disclosure can be important in the workplace as people with psychosocial disabilities sometimes require reasonable accommodation. Disclosure to family and friends can provide a person with valuable support in times of need. Disclosure must be carefully considered, however, because many people are either misinformed or uninformed about psychosocial disability, which could have consequences such as negatively impacting on relationships. It is therefore important that the person disclosing the information have answers and information on hand to address any concerns that the recipient of the information may have.
If a person is confident in their identity in relation to their disability, they will know that there are steps that must be taken to prevent or mitigate symptoms of their mental health condition. Such individuals will make good choices with regard to diet, exercise and limiting drug, alcohol and tobacco use. According to the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation, “people with severe mental health problems…on average tend to die 10 to 25 years earlier than the general population.” Someone who is receptive to their own mental health needs will know to take good care of themselves so as to keep mentally well.
McLelland (2015) defines self-advocacy as follows:
“Self-advocacy is the ability to speak-up for yourself and the things that are important to you. Self-advocacy means you are able to ask for what you need and want and tell people about your thoughts and feelings. Self-advocacy means you know your rights and responsibilities, you speak-up for your rights, and you are able to make choices and decisions that affect your life.”
Self-advocacy is very important for the purposes of identity as it speaks to how empowered a person is. For an individual to take control of their lives and to demand better treatment demonstrates that their disability is not an overriding force in their lives. That they may also be determined to forge a better path for others in the same situation shows that they are not defined by a disability but rather are empowered and in the driver’s seat.
It is especially important to raise awareness surrounding mental health on account of a new initiative that has been launched by United for Global mental Health (UGMH)., The campaign- entitled “Speak Your Mind” will target and hold governments accountable and responsible for providing access and funding for mental health. The vision of the campaign is “mental health for all.” It is a nationally driven, globally united campaign involving civil society from 15 countries- many of the members of which with mental health needs. It gives people with lived experience the megaphone and serves to bring their voices to the fore. It requests from governments that they invest, empower and educate to lead us into a future where mental health is valued.
Speak Your Mind has a South African Country Team, led by the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) in conjunction with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI). This campaign will seek to hold governments around the world accountable for their actions and inactions towards mental health care users and is intended to accelerate the rights of people with mental disabilities coming to fruition. The prescripts aims of this campaign will be drawn into our campaign for Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month. For the 2019 campaign, SAFMH will be engaging in a range of activities. These include the publication of a series of press releases, an opinion piece, infographics and the convening of a dialogue on Identity and Mental Health. It is our hope that our campaign will bring awareness to psychosocial disability and how people with these mental health conditions identify with them and the need to create a climate conducive to them identifying positively and constructively. Psychosocial disability need not be a life sentence. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring that the needs of individuals who have them are met.
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
South African Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852
072 2577 938