What are psychiatric disabilities?

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 noed 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, pyschiatric disability refers to a mental illness that significantly interferes with being able to complete major life activities, such as learning, working, and communicating.

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 Pick page on mental health. We ran a search on the NIDILRR Program database and found several NIDRR projects that are doing or have done research on psychiatric disabilities. We also ran a search in REHABDATA and found several articles on psychiatric disabilities. 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 NIDILRR and SAMHSA, shares research, resources, and support/services for you and your family.