Invisible Disabilities and Mental Health

Mental health can be impacted by so many things. Check out our latest blog post which discusses what an invisible disability is, and how it can impact mental health.


WHAT is a disability, and HOW can it be invisible?

A disability is any condition or illness that makes interacting with the world around you more difficult. Over 1 billion people across the world identify as having a disability. This means some activities and places are not accessible to many people. An invisible disability is a disability that you cannot see. You would not be able to guess that a person has a disability just by looking at them. An invisible disability could be a mental illness, a developmental disability, chronic pain, or any other disability that is not immediately obvious to the onlooker. This can include, but is not limited to: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD
  • Dyslexia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD
  • Sensory Processing Disorder

HOW does living with an invisible disability make life harder, and WHY does it impact a person’s mental health? 

Adults with disabilities report experiencing frequent mental distress almost 5 times as often as adults without disabilities. Many factors contribute to this distress; for example, getting diagnosed with an invisible disability can be a long, tiring process, where individuals or their families are required to advocate endlessly.

Some people do not have the privilege of seeking a diagnosis due to the price of service, or long waitlists. Not having a diagnosis can create barriers to receiving the required help and support. Learning how to manage tasks and life with any disability, diagnosed or not, can be physically and mentally taxing.

Typically, society does not cater to individuals with unique needs, even when those needs are obvious. For example, we all know wheelchair users may struggle with stairs, yet many buildings do not have elevators, ramps, or wheelchair height tables. When a disability is invisible, it is even easier to ignore those needing support and accommodation, because their needs are not visible. The challenges and barriers this community experiences can all pile up, creating stress, anxiety, and sometimes even traumatic injury. 

Because those living with disabilities are often in places that are not safe or supportive, they are more vulnerable to being exposed to prolonged periods of stress or abuse. Left unmanaged or unsupported, this can lead to struggles with mental health. 

HOW can I support someone living with an invisible disability? 

The first thing we can do for someone who identifies with any disability is listen. Listen to their lived experiences, struggles, and achievements! Be mindful to not assume anything about the person. Remember, every one of us is looking for acceptance and belonging in our own way. 

Ask the person or caregiver what they need and remember that not everyone is seeking advice. Always remember to ask before you assist; assuming someone wants or needs your help can be patronizing. 

The next thing we can do is support. If someone in your life has anxiety that prevents them from shopping alone, offer to be a weekly shopping companion. Perhaps someone with a history of motor vehicle trauma would appreciate a ride, or a calm passenger as they practice their regulation skills while driving.  

Here is a list of ways your community might be creating an accessible experience for individuals who seek it: 

  • Many grocery store chains have sensory friendly shopping hours, with dimmed lights, no music, and no small talk at the check-out lane
  • Movie theaters are now offering sensory friendly viewing and closed captioning to those that require it


  • Yoga studios and some fitness centres are taking a trauma-informed approach, which includes reduced class sizes and no hands-on adjustments
  • Some dance studios, swim classes, and music lessons have additional support staff for children that require extra help, physically and cognitively 

*Do not be shy in asking about what a business or service can do to accommodate a need that you have. Your question could spark change! 


So, if someone shares that they are living with something that makes life more challenging to navigate, remember to listen and support them as best you can. It is likely that someone in your life has an invisible difference that gives them their own unique perspective on the world around us! 


Always seek supports if you’re suffering. Call 211 or the Distress line at 780-482-4357 (HELP) if you need immediate support.