Recognizing invisible disabilities during Mental Illness Awareness Week

By: James Cameron and Morgan Rowe

“You look fine!” “It’s all in your head.” For individuals with invisible disabilities, comments like these are a fundamental reality. As Pain Awareness Month draws to a close and we look ahead to the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week on October 2, it is important to take time to recognize the specific societal and attitudinal barriers that individuals with invisible disabilities experience in everyday life.

The term “invisible disabilities” refers to symptoms and functional limitations which are not always obvious to an observer. Many of our clients, for instance, have post-concussion syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, chronic pain, bi-polar disorder, etc., none of which may be apparent from the outside.

Ravenlaw Invisible Disabilities

While Canadian society is improving at recognizing and accommodating “visible” disabilities, people with invisible disabilities still often experience added difficulties due to the invisible nature of their symptoms. This can lead to problems in the workplace and with LTD insurers.

As the Ontario Human Rights Commission has recognized, for example, individuals with certain kinds of invisible disabilities, particularly mental health and addiction issues, continue to experience significant levels of stigmatization and social exclusion, despite the fact that almost one in five Canadian adults will experience these conditions at some point in their lives. In addition, people with psychosocial disabilities are more likely to have low incomes than people without psychosocial disabilities.

As we take time next week to recognize the struggles for inclusion which still face individuals with mental health issues and work to build more general awareness regarding the experiences of individuals living with invisible disabilities, I want to highlight the recent Ottawa Citizen article regarding a local artist, May Mutter, with post-concussion syndrome herself, who is making the invisible spectacularly visible through body art. Her project, called A Caged Mind, uses body painting to provide visual interpretations of what a concussion is. Her moving video and fantastic art can both be viewed here.

[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without consideration of your individual circumstances.]

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