Questions about Disability and Loneliness
The holiday season can take a toll on your mind and body. There can be an extra level of difficulty, if you are living with an acquired disability.
We asked Helen M. Genova, PhD, assistant director of the Kessler Foundation's Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research and director of the Social Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory to share her thoughts on how dealing with an acquired disability can effect someone mentally and physically.
What are the emotional effects an acquired disability can have on an individual?
People who have an acquired disability may have a number of emotional issues -- physical and mental changes that may raise the risk for depression and anxiety.For example, people who have typically led an active lifestyle may find new physical limitations challenging in designing a new exercise program. Some individuals (like those with multiple sclerosis or a traumatic brain injury) may experience cognitive symptoms, such as memory problems, learning problems or severe fatigue, which make it difficult to spend time with friends or attend family holiday festivities. All of these symptoms may lead to depression, or make preexisting depression worse.
Are people with acquired disabilities more prone to loneliness than non-disabled individuals?
Unfortunately, people with acquired disabilities may be more prone to loneliness for a number of reasons. For one, they may experience new physical and mental limitations that may not allow them to lead the life they want to lead. For example, someone who had a career and an active social life before their diagnosis may find it difficult to "keep up" with their old way of living, because they are too fatigued to participate in life the way they used to, or they physically cannot perform the same activities they use to perform. This may lead to social isolation and loneliness. Further, some people with disabilities isolate themselves from others because they do not want to be a "burden" to their families and friends. They may feel that their disability is an inconvenience to others, or tire of having to explain why they are not feeling well, need to cancel plans, or leave early, etc. These feelings may lead them to avoid social interaction altogether, which only leads to more loneliness, and a cycle that can be difficult to break.
What advice would you give to people who are living with an acquired disability and experiencing feelings of loneliness (especially during the holidays)?
I recommend that they resist the urge to isolate themselves. In other words, find good friends who understand their disability and can provide unconditional support. Another option is to find support groups or classes geared towards people with similar disabilities. Spending time with people who truly understand what they are going through can be very comforting. Realizing that others are experiencing similar life struggles may reduce feelings of loneliness, and help you to feel more connected to others.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you feel you are struggling with depression and want to know how to treat it, connect with a mental healthcare provider near you.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline (1-800-662-HELP (4357)) is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.