Mental Health

Ableism Hurts Mental Health. Here’s How to Be a Better Ally.

You might be a bit unfamiliar with ableism. That’s okay, this post should help! All you need to know right know is that people with disabilities often struggle with their mental health.

People with disabilities make up roughly 10% of our population. A lot of the times, you might not even be aware that someone has a disability. Either way, that’s a big chunk of the population that we need to take care of.

If you’re like most people, you want to help. You care about other people’s mental health and want to learn more, right?

I recently did an Instagram Live with @oceannec_, where we discussed ableism and touched on its effects on mental health. Oceanne is most known for her TikToks educating viewers on albinism and her life as someone who’s legally blind.

This post is inspired by the awesome discussion we had.

This article contains:

  1. What is ableism?
  2. What are some examples of ableism?
  3. How disabled people’s mental health is suffering
  4. What YOU can do to help regarding mental health and people with disabilities

What is Ableism, Anyway?

Photo of @oceannec_, who is known for her albinism and advocacy for accessibility.

To put it simply, ableism is the discrimination against people with disabilities.

Sadly, you might not even know you’re doing it! (Don’t worry about this, we’ll cover that later).

It doesn’t have to be this super obvious thing either – little passive comments, or microaggressions, can totally be ableist as well!

If you’re wondering if something someone has done is ableist, here’s how to tell:

  • It made the person uncomfortable.

That’s it.

In a world built for able-bodied people, it can be hard to realize that ableism happens often. So, take it from your friend with a disability; if they say that it’s ableist, it probably is. That’s why mental health with people with disabilities need to be discussed.

What are Some Examples of Ableism?

Okay, okay, so you know that ableism exists. If you’re like me, you want concrete examples of ableism, because you can’t see it!

Oceanne gave a whole bunch of examples during our Instagram Live, and boy, does it ever happen often.

1. Getting treated differently depending on whether you “look” like you have a disability or not

This, unfortunately, is a double-edged sword. 

Let’s say someone is legally blind.

If they “look” blind (for instance, if they have a can), they get babied. People start grabbing them and trying to help them despite them not asking for help.

If they don’t look blind, they might have a harder time getting help when they need it. People might not believe that they have a disability and might refuse to help them.

See what I mean? Either way, people with disabilities are put in this uncomfortable position ALL THE TIME, which is super draining.

2. Feeling anxious because of the world we live in

Remember how I mentioned that the world is built for able-bodied people? This includes not only infrastructure, but also the social systems built into our society.

It can be hard to realize that our world is ableist when you don’t see the situations people with a disability have to face every single day. 

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you want to go to a restaurant with your friend that uses a wheelchair. Easy to pick a place you both like, right?

Uh, no.

That place has to be wheelchair accessible, and the inside of the restaurant has to be accessible for your friend with a physical disability, otherwise your friend will have to deal with the embarrassment of getting there and not even being able to enter.

People with disabilities have to plan their day out every single day while navigating their physical environment. There are constantly barriers they have to face, which can cause a lot of anxiety!

3. The gaslighting when talking about ableism

Imagine already struggling with ableism, talking about it, and having someone add on even MORE ableism.

Rude.

This is the reality of people with disabilities. 

The effects of gaslighting are huge. Your self esteem takes a blow, especially when it happens all the time. That’s just the reality for people with disabilities.

Related: 7 Proven Ways to Respond to Gaslighting

4. Dealing with microaggressions

Sometimes, people have crappy attitudes when dealing with people in with a disability. They use ableist language, which is STILL commonly heard today.

Yup, I’m talking about the R word. Referring to someone as being “retarded” is outdated, and really hurtful. People with a disability don’t need to feel “lesser than”, because they aren’t lesser than!

Words like that are still being used without people speaking up, so it can be hard for people in the community to “just ignore it”.

P.S. Just refer to something as being “stupid” or to a person with a disability as having a disability, not “handicapped”! Easy peasy!

How Disabled People’s Mental Health is Suffering

When encountering ableism every single day, it’s understandable why people with a disability can really struggle with their mental health. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Having a disability can be isolating

Sometimes, able-bodied people have a hard time relating to the situations people with disabilities have to face. That can easily make someone feel super isolated!

Isolation wreaks havoc on mental health. Since humans are naturally social and we need to feel like we have a group of people we can relate to, feeling isolated can easily give someone depressive thoughts.

To combat this, Oceanne has a map she colours in when she meets other people with albinism. She also has a group of friends with albinism and a mentor in her community.

A lot of people develop ways to fight against this isolating feeling, so be kind! Even if you’ll never be able to fully put yourself in their situation, being kind is free and educating yourself is the best way you can help with this feeling.

2. Having a disability means dealing with mean comments

Oceanne has a public TikTok account where she specifically deals with fighting ableism and educating people. She’s seen TONS of mean comments.

Even without a social media platform, people who have disabilities are often the subject of hurtful comments. 

Constant bullying is terrible to your mental health, even without having a disability. 

Of course, a lot of people develop a thick skin because they can get so many mean comments, but they can’t escape them.

3. People with disabilities are constantly dehumanized

If you’re even a bit of a good person, you’re going to be appalled when I tell you that people with albinism get their photos taken by strangers in public all the time. 

Having everyone’s eyes on you for something you can’t control, even when you’re an extrovert, is hard. It can cause a lot of anxiety for someone to deal with the constant attention and comments when they go out.

From someone petting their guide dog to trying to drag someone with a cane across the street, it’s really easy for someone with a disability to feel babied and dehumanized.

How to Assist People with Disabilities with Their Mental Health

Congratulations on wanting to be an ally for people in the disabled community! We all have a lot of work to do to help the disabled community and the mental health challenges they may face, but here are a few ways you can start:

1. Follow creators with disabilities on social media

Everyone knows Molly Burke, but she’s not the only one guys! By following people in the community, you’ll be educating yourself and helping out with that isolated feeling creators with disabilities might get. 

Below are a few creators to follow on several platforms:

On YouTube:

On Instagram:

  • @anastasia_k_p
  • @mightymissmaya
  • @connerlundius

On TikTok:

  • @oceannec_
  • @dani.cant.see
  • @wheelieerin
  • @chrissycanthearyou
  • @pawsative.strides

2. Be a good advocate for your friends with disabilities

Person who has a disability talking with a friend. This helps with mental health.

Sometimes, it can be draining to confront people and constantly fight to be represented. Your friends can even fear for their safety if they talk back to someone making mean comments.

Your job as their friend is to be there for them. Whether you’re confrontational or not, help them navigate rude people.

If you’re feeling confrontational and your friend isn’t, talk back to the ableist. Tell them that their comment was rude without making a scene (that might make things worse). If you can’t get through to them, just leave.

If you’re not confrontational and neither is your friend, get out of there. It’s a super stressful situation for them to be in, so ask them if they want to leave. If they want to stay, just ignore the person making mean comments. They’re not worth the energy.

If you’re not confrontational but your friend is, hype them up! Don’t take over their moment, but be a good friend by hyping them up. Agree with what they say, nod your head, whatever it is to back them up.

Just by being there, you’re helping them out so much more.

3. Stop pointing things out that they can’t change in under 10 seconds.

So, this one doesn’t really apply to your friends, but to strangers with disabilities you might see in public. 

Please don’t act like that 5-year-old who points and loudly asks “WHY ARE THEY LIKE THAT?”.

Here’s the golden rule: if they can’t change it in under 10 seconds, don’t mention it.

If someone has something stuck in their teeth: YES.

If someone has a genetic condition: NO.

You can never be sure if someone is insecure about something, so it’s best not to point it out. It’s simple manners!

4. Leave the saviour complex at home

You’re not a hero for being a decent person.

This goes hand-in-hand with the humanization of people with disabilities: if you brag about how much you’re helping, you’re making things worse.

A few important things to note to avoid feeling like some kind of hero:

  • Having a disability is not a burden. If you realize this, you can reduce the stigma and understand that this is an issue with our society.
  • People with disabilities might need help, but not always. It’s not a default: they’ll ask for your help if they need it. The rule of thumb is to treat them like you would anyone else. Remember, you don’t know their capabilities, so the best you can do is listen and learn.

What you should be doing is supporting your fellow humans and making sure that they feel heard. You’re already helping with their mental health so much just by doing that!

5. Acknowledge their experiences

You won’t ever fully understand what people with disabilities go through every day. 

What you CAN do, is acknowledge that they experience those things and educate yourself to be a part of societal change!

People who have disabilities constantly have to deal with people gaslighting them and making them feel like their feelings aren’t valid. It will definitely lift their spirits when you actually listen to them!

Some Thoughts

It’s not perfect right now. It probably won’t be perfect for a while now. 

However, people with disabilities often struggle with mental health issues, and that simply won’t disappear.

If you’re at the end of this post, chances are you want to help out and stop ableism for good. You now know:

  • What ableism is
  • Some examples of ableism
  • Why people with disabilities often have mental health issues
  • How you can help

So, go kick some ableist butt!

Pin this article if you’ve found any of this useful. 

Peace out!

One Comment

  • Jessica

    Thank you for sharing such important information! This is a topic that needs addressed way more than it is. Having worked with people with disabilities for years, I am so thankful for this post.

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