People with physical disability: supporting mental health during COVID-19

For many people living with physical disability, the impact of COVID-19 on everyday life has worsened existing issues, as well as created a new set of challenges, particularly when it comes to mental health.

Here, we look at ways people with physical disability can support their mental health and wellbeing during this difficult time.

Physical disability in Australia

In Australia, around one in five people have a disability of some kind, whether physical or intellectual.

Below we focus on those with a physical disability, however you can read more about intellectual disability in our article People with intellectual disability: supporting mental health.

A physical disability refers to a condition that limits bodily function in some way, and can be the result of genetic disorders, illnesses, accidents, ageing or a combination of these things.

Living with physical disability during COVID-19

According to data from Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, people with disability are more likely to have poorer physical and mental health than people without disability.

Social isolation and loneliness are key concerns – and that’s without factoring in the increased threat to health and restrictions brought about by COVID-19.

“People with disabilities already experience a number of stressors that can impact on their wellbeing and make them vulnerable to loneliness,” says Dr Nick Hagiliassis, a consulting psychologist with Scope.

“Many stressors relate to the life situation and inequalities experienced by people with disability. For example, those who live in accommodation where they are isolated from their families and community, and have limited social networks, are likely to be at a higher risk of experiencing social isolation and loneliness.”

Opening up to loved ones about how we’re feeling can help support our mental wellbeing.

“When restrictions are in place due to COVID-19, many people with physical disability will find it very hard, or even impossible, to participate in their usual community and social activities during lockdown. Furthermore, already limited friendships and connections may have been further disrupted due to the pandemic.”

To this point, Hagiliassis says that maintaining social interactions and networks – as well as reaching out for help and support when you need it – is key right now.

“As we continue to live with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, staying well informed, well connected, and opening up to loved ones and friends about how we’re feeling can help support our mental wellbeing – and this is no different for people with physical disability,” says Hagiliassis.

Vision impaired person walking across the street with cane

Ways to support your mental health during COVID-19

For many people with physical disability this remains a challenging time. Looking after mental health and wellbeing is more important than ever.

Here are some ways to help support your mental health right now:

  • Stay well-informed but limit your news intake to once a day and only use trusted sources. The SIFT technique can help you filter and access news content
  • Maintain your usual routines as much as possible, including treatment plans, particularly those related to mental health
  • Stay connected with friends and family, in line with current COVID-19 restrictions and health advice, and consider joining a peer support group such as  Peer Connect.
  • Regularly talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling lonely, take a look at these tips on how to keep loneliness at bay while staying at home .
  • Do daily (viable) exercise, eat well, and try to get enough good-quality sleep, and make the most of relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation (download information on ‘Relaxation for people with disabilities’ can be downloaded here)
  • Seek support early on if you’re worried about anything. Contact the Disability Information Helpline on: 1800 643 787 (available Monday-Friday 8am-8pm) for access to information and referrals for people who need help due to COVID-19, including counselling.

For more information

For more information about COVID-19 for people with disability, see:

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