Mental Illness Can Be a Real Disability, So Shut Up

When a child is born with a disability, do we brush it off as an illusion? Do we insist that it’s just a weakness or deficiency in character? Of course not! So why does society’s thinking change when that disability, instead of twisting the body, is a mental illness? If you know someone who thinks mental illness isn’t a “real” disability, let’s talk.

The Brain is an Organ

While most wouldn’t quibble on labeling a severe problem with a major organ a disability, for some reason the brain doesn’t always get included on this list. However, conditions such as epilepsy and strokes are clear examples of how a problem in the brain can result in severe debilitation. However, not all malfunctions of the brain result in physical effects. The brain is a complex and subtle organ, so when something’s off, the symptoms (as well as the problem itself) can be equally subtle. For example, concussions don’t always manifest as a KO — sometimes they can manifest as anxiety.

It’s Not Just a Matter of Willpower


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On the surface, claiming “lack of willpower” as the source of mental illness seems to make some sense. There are times when everybody has to push through some difficult task. Be it a trying day at work, a grueling workout, or quitting a bad habit, there is a certain amount internal desire required to complete challenges. The danger is equating a lack of willpower to a failure to tackle a health issue. Only the most callus of fiends would blame someone who died from cancer on a lack of willpower. Yet those with mental illness, which is as real as cancer or any other disease, get charged with being “weak” or having no willpower. This kind of thinking is both hurtful and dangerous, as it may prevent somebody with a serious disability from contacting social security disability lawyers when they really need to.

It’s Invisible

It’s true that the average person diagnosed with a mental illness does not leave the doctor’s office with an x-ray or MRI showing brain abnormalities. Most diagnoses are made based on behavioral history as opposed to something like a blood test. However, while not many mentally ill patients receive brain scans or other imaging tests, those who do show that mental illness is definitely not invisible. There are distinct, visible differences between scans of people with mental illnesses, such as depression, and scans of people without mental illness.


Mental illness is a relatively new field in modern medicine, so there is still much to learn about diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, no matter how much evidence we discover, there are some out there who will never admit that it constitutes a real disability. So if some loudmouth happens to be spouting off about “phony” mental illness, don’t bother debating. Just give them two words: Shut up.


Author: Shae Holland is a professional copywriter who loves philosophical discussions. Visit her here.