Intellectual and mental disability – Illusion or a real problem?

When discussing the structure of our society and the inevitable hierarchy, it is impossible to ignore the subject of the weakest individuals in the sociodemographic system. Behind the infamous term „the weakest”, there is a belief that such individuals are less productive and require increased care.

In professional and private life, most of us focus on personal good and the privileges which are associated with it. If our mental, material and physical well-being is at a satisfactory level, we define ourselves as fulfilled people in our life. It is connected with the fact that we are able to take care of ourselves and our family, we make independent decisions, we can actively participate in social life, etc. Then, we often expect that every other person will be able to take care of themselves and we unconsciously stigmatize all signs of weakness. It may be a result of our many internal beliefs. Nonetheless, it is worth paying special attention to the phenomenon of ignorance.

More than once we have dealt with a situation while, during a tedious discussion, we try to prove our point to a person who has no knowledge of the subject, but who stubbornly claims that we are wrong. It reminds of a situation of mental disability; we associate the name of disorders, but we do not know what is behind them. The first thought should be asking the patient what it is about and what they have to struggle with. It might seem that Wikipedia is a sufficient source of knowledge, but have we ever thought about who is the author of the information there? Humility and a pinch of empathy are necessary here to overcome our conviction of being infallible. First of all, we should find out from a reliable source what a given phenomenon is, before we start to apply our standards.

The second point is that we often hear, but don’t listen. Well, because in the end we collide with the situation when someone tells us that he suffers from a mental illness that is not visible. From our perspective, it is a properly functioning individual who, nevertheless, claims that is struggling with a disability. It is an unconscious instinct to eliminate information that seems false or exaggerated to us. For example, while a person is suffering from borderline personality disorder tells us that they can sleep 24 hours a day and they do not even have the strength to get up to the toilet quietly, we can assess them as a lazy person. In the 21st century, depression turned out to be the bane of mankind. Almost 16% of Polish society suffers from it, of which 15-25% of all patients commit suicide. It cannot be shown with a broken leg or any degeneration of the body. Solely, it can be told how difficult it is for us to deal with this disorder every day. Additionally, such people are a particularly vulnerable group because they do not find themselves in their own state.

Societies or communities sometimes handicap many times people with disabilities, limiting them access to various social goods (C. Barnes, G. Mercer, 2008). It might be the fear that they will suddenly turn out to be equal to us? Or it might be the sumptuous exposure to the company of individuals that makes us realize that we might be in their place as well? The fear of the unknown is so primal that it is inevitable. It all comes down to the fact that people with disabilities are doubly stigmatized throughout their lives. They must have their cross points and negative self-marginalization, as well as be a subject to constant evaluation by society.

Author: Natalia Gąsiewska, Work 4 Life Blog editor, Volunteer
translated by: Magdalena Antonik

Brzezińska, A. I., Zwolińska, K. (2010). Marginalizacja osób z ograniczeniami sprawności na skutek zaburzeń psychicznych. Polityka Społeczna, 2, 16-22.
Barnes, C., Mercer, G. (2008). Niepełnosprawność. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Sic!

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