Psychiatric disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a “mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual; a record of impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment”, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations “define ‘mental impairment’ to include ‘any mental or psychological disorder, such as. . .emotional or mental illness.’” Examples in EEOC’s Psychiatric Enforcement Guidance include anxiety disorders (which include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and personality disorders. Other examples include phobias such as agoraphobia, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, and dissociative disorders such as dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization disorder.
Psychiatric disability, or mental illness, describes a wide range of mental and emotional conditions. As noted above, the terms psychiatric disability and mental illness only refer to a portion of the ADA’s broader term of mental impairment. They are also different from other mental disabilities covered by the ADA such as learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and brain injury. Although psychiatric disability and mental illness are sometimes used interchangeably, psychiatric disability refers to a mental illness that significantly interferes with being able to complete major life activities, such as learning, working, and communicating.
We ran a search on the NIDRR Program database and found several projects doing research on psychiatric disabilities. Here are just a few:
- Temple University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living and Participation of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities. Project Number: H133B130014.
- Advanced Research Training Program in Employment and Vocational Rehabilitation of Persons with Psychiatric Disabilities. Project Number: H133P130011.
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Psychiatric Disability and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions. Project Number: H133B100028.
We also ran a search in REHABDATA and found several articles on psychiatric disabilities. Here is a sample:
- Living Well: An intervention to improve self-management of mental illness for individuals with serious mental illness. NARIC Accession Number: J65556.
- Function in job seekers with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems who access community based disability employment services. NARIC Accession Number: J65943.
- Racial and ethnic cultural factors in the process of acceptance of mental illness. NARIC Accession Number: J66578.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a psychiatric disability/mental illness, please contact your primary care physician right away. If you are looking for resources related to psychiatric disabilities/mental illness or mental health, you can visit our ready reference page on mental health and our Librarian’s Picks page on mental health. You can also visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for resources and information. And the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University, which is funded by NIDRR and SAMHSA, shares research, resources, and support/services for you and your family.
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