Depression is a disability.

MDD. Sometimes called ‘clinical depression’, it’s treated with a mixture of drugs and counselling and the aim is generally to ease symptoms, keep them in check, and help whoever’s suffering function in their day-to-day life. Even with treatment there are bad days and good days.

Most people with MDD also suffer from anxiety or other forms of mental illness — and being depressed with anxiety is wanting to do absolutely nothing while being in a tizzy over all the things that you need to do. It’s an exhausting way to be. The part that’s even better (read: worse) is that you can’t outright show the panic you’re in, usually, it’s just your brain working at breakneck speed while your body just … does very little.

Aches and pains are common. Exhaustion. Sleep? Usually too much.

The combination of symptoms from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, plus the side effects of the various medications, contribute to MDD being considered a disability. A lot of people, even with treatment, either can’t find work or simply can’t work — that, or they can’t find a job that can accommodate their needs. You’re going to have bad days where you absolutely cannot work. You’re going to have days where you can’t concentrate, and everything’s fuzzy or spinning or something, and you can’t be expected to do much in that condition. The side effects of the medications can be bad (‘brain zaps’, dizziness, digestive issues, headaches, etc.) … but aren’t nearly as bad as what you’d be without them.

It’s all even more interesting when you’re just getting started with a new medication, or you’re weaning off one to get started onto another.

The United Nations has this to say on the nature of a disability: “disability is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

What really makes MDD a disability?

A person with Major Depressive Disorder and/or other mental illnesses experiences barriers to fully participating in society — barriers that a neurotypical person does not have. A neurotypical person, that is, someone without a mental illness or brain-related disorder, can be expected to go about their day without being exhausted a few hours into it. They don’t experience thoughts of ending their own lives, and they don’t otherwise have invasive thoughts that tell them lies about themselves or others. They can participate in the world around them without having to compensate for lower energy levels, pain, or medication side effects.

As mentioned above, this also includes difficulty with working, finding work, and receiving accommodation for one’s illness.

For all intents and purposes, having a mental illness is being sick. A mental illness interferes with someones’ day-to-day life and they don’t have as much control over that as they’d like. Some manage to control their illness(es) quite well with medication, counselling, or both. Others struggle regardless of what tools they use.

It’s important that we recognize mental illness, including depression and anxiety, as a disability and provide the support that’s required. It’s difficult to concentrate on getting better or at least improving when you have limited energy to begin with, and most of that gets taken up by work (which often makes things worse anyway) alongside other family-related stuff.

Okay, mental illness is a disability. What next?

If you think you may be suffering from mental illness — maybe you’ve been in a funk you can’t get out of, your thought patterns have changed and gone in a bad direction, or you’re considering ending your life — contact your doctor for a consultation. If you are unable to or don’t have a doctor, visit the ER at the nearest hospital — most hospitals have an on-site crisis worker who deals with mental health issues and can make arrangements for a psychiatric consultation (if necessary) or provide you with some form of help. Whatever you do, don’t give up: it may require a lot of fighting to get the help that you need.

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