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Mental Health and the Social Model of Disability

Back in October 2020, we surveyed Norfolk and Suffolk members, and beyond, to get an understanding of mental health. The purpose of this survey was to analyse how many people live with ill mental health vs those who know about and identify with the Social Model of Disability.

The Social Model of Disability teaches us that people living with disabilities are not disabled by their impairment, but rather by living in a society that puts up barriers to their independence and freedom. For example, if you are a wheelchair user – your wheelchair is your freedom and gives you independence, but if the world around you only has stairs and no lifts or accessible walkways, your wheelchair is not the tool it could be and can be viewed as the barrier, when in reality, the barrier is the stairs.

When it comes to mental health – it is my firm belief that the barrier to people living well with mental health issues is the stigma that surrounds it, as well as a lack of adequate services to support people.

If mental health was seen as part of the social model of disability on a wider basis than it is currently, we would begin to see:

· More conversations being had about mental health

· Employers making adjustments for mental health, as well physical health

· Robust policies and systems within government for including mental health in all services

· Suitably funded services

· Access to services for all who need it

· Earlier intervention and prevention

Sounds good right? So – how do we make this happen?

The Social Model of Disability works well when people feel safe and confident to use the phrase ‘I am disabled’ without attaching negative connotations to it. These negative connotations are exactly the reason the Social Model exists – to challenge perceptions.

Have a think about what comes to mind when you think of the word ‘Disabled’ - I won't judge you if those things are:

· Weak/Frail

· Relies on benefits

· Poorness/poverty

· Unhappy

· Pity

The reason some of these things might come to mind is because society has created this stereotype of disabled people. Because disabled people are not fairly represented in the media, through our politicians and in our work forces; there is little to change your mind on this view.

Everyone, and I mean everyone – will experience ill mental health in their lifetime. Some of us, experience it far more severely than others. All who experience it, are disabled by the barriers society has put in our way to recovery, living well and speaking freely about it – just like you do when you have hay fever or a cold.

I’d like to challenge you to think of anyone you know, yourself included – who has experienced poor mental health as ‘a disabled person’ - and watch your perception on disability shift. Once your perception of disability has shifted, and you understand the social model – you will start to notice the barriers that are in place.

Kimberley Myhill

Development Manager

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