Psychological disabilities: let’s talk about it!
Disability is not an easy subject. What’s more, when it is invisible and caused by a psychological disorder, the subject becomes highly taboo. Yet, one in four French people know at least one closely related person who suffers from a psychological disability.
Better identify the subject of psychological disability
Psychological disabilities are too often confused with mental disabilities. It was not until 2005 that the French law officially distinguished the two to recognize psychological disorders as a separate cause of disabilities.
In a professional context, symptoms of psychological disorders are very diverse and may affect our thoughts and perceptions, our communication, our attention, our memory and our temper. This, without being necessarily systematic nor permanent, can seriously affect the quality of our work and impede our social interactions.
A brief overview of psychological disabilities
- Psychoses, like schizophrenia. Symptoms of schizophrenia are very heterogeneous: delusions and hallucinations, social withdrawal and cognitive difficulties may cause disorganized thoughts and inconsistent messages. This disorder generally begins in early adulthood.
- Mood disorders, like bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder induces an alternation between manic episodes (grandiose ideas, hyperactivity, strong sense of self), major depressive episodes (irritability, deep sorrow, loss of confidence) and “normal” periods.
- Severe personality disorders. There are many types of personality disorders (among which schizotypal, paranoid, and obsessional personalities for example). All of them have in common to impede social relations. Be careful though before self-diagnosing yourself or your relatives: we may all show clinical signs of these personalities to a “light” extent which doesn’t lead to a proper disability.
- Anxious disorders (like OCD and disabling phobias). Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) proceed from a deep state of anxiety. Obsessions therefore take the form of invasive and iterative thoughts. People try to regain control over their distress by establishing strategies, usually through rituals (making sure that the light is switched off, repeating a gesture a specific number of times, etc.).
It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive and that all psychological disorders aren’t necessarily disabling. Let’s be cautious by leaving the task of diagnosing to qualified professionals.
Break the taboo to foster inclusion
According to a CNCDH survey conducted in 2021, 45% of French people feel rather uncomfortable with the subject of psychological disabilities. This taboo around psychological disabilities doesn’t help with the integration of those concerned. Several issues are at stake here:
- Under diagnosed disabilities. People who suffer from psychological disorders may not be aware of their invisible disability. Since they maintain all their mental aptitudes and because the symptoms are cyclical (with “up and down” episodes), it often take time for the diagnosis to be confirmed.
- A silent suffering. Some people may also fall into denial, try to minimize the symptoms or self-censor themselves. As a matter of fact, society tend to stigmatize people with psychological disabilities, until making them responsible for the disturbance of their psychological equilibrium.
- A sense of discomfort among relatives. Sometimes, due to their lack of knowledge on the matter, relatives will also tend to minimize the subject or feel such a discomfort that they can contribute to the isolation of people with psychological disabilities.
In spite of these difficulties, inclusion of psychological disabilities is a key issue for society and for companies:
- First, because companies are responsible for the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees (article L4121-1 of the French Labour Code),
- And even more importantly because these psychological disabilities might affect anyone of any age.
Open-mindedness is the key ingredient to a better understanding of our differences towards a more inclusive dialogue. Let’s develop a healthy form of curiosity and work out our overall empathy with others… and with ourselves!