Written by Emily Rizza, Content Writer Intern
As a result of physical, financial, and social problems, it is common for persons with disabilities to opt to stay home instead of encountering potential barriers in the community, thus getting into a “homebound rut” that cuts them off from the outside world. Common barriers that isolate handicapped persons from public social settings could include the logistical challenges of transportation and facility accessibility, and the financial strain of engaging in social activities. It’s also very difficult for persons with disabilities to deal with the basic activities of daily living such as bathing, eating and cleaning. Unfortunately, many persons with disabilities become comfortable in their everyday routines and drastically decrease their social interactions to avoid additional problems.
This limited contact with the outside world can lead to severe feelings of isolation; in fact, according to a 2017 study from the disability charity Scope, two-thirds (67%) of disabled people have reported a chronic feeling of loneliness in the past year. The number is even higher to three-quarters (76%) for working-age disabled people.
In combination with physical isolation, the pervading sense of loneliness that disabled persons experience often comes from the emotional isolation people feel when their impairment is not easily understood and accepted in social settings. Even if a disabled person is active in the public sphere, they might feel unwelcome in certain environments based on physical limitations and unacknowledged in inaccessible spaces that only cater to the needs of able-bodied persons. As an example, participating in the after work happy hour becomes a challenge if the facility isn’t accessible and has only high top tables, making it inaccessible for those in wheelchairs. It is common for disabled persons to feel isolated by their perceived “differences” when they go out in public.
The social isolation that results from the feelings of being stuck in the home, cut off from the outside world, and unaccepted in public settings can “exacerbate a person’s feelings of low self-worth, shame, loneliness, depression, and other mental health concerns. Thus, social isolation can be both a cause and symptom of other mental health issues. Though often underplayed because they are “invisible” illnesses, untreated depression and social anxiety lead to various additional health problems, including a weakened immune system, impaired sleep, early-onset dementia, and cardiovascular problems. A recent study from the British Cardiovascular Society shows that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent, and a 2015 Sage Journal analysis of 70 studies found that “socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years.”
There are solutions that can help persons with disabilities re-engage with the outside world:
- Keep company
Social isolation for persons confined to the home is much stronger when individuals live alone or have a lack of emotional support from their housemates and family members. If you are craving interaction, invite guests over for low-key, budget-friendly fun. Have your friends and family over for game nights, dinner parties, and movie marathons. Ask each person to bring food to share so that hosting is not a physical or financial burden on you.
In an article on the link between social connectedness and mental health, New York Times writer Jane E. Brody shares:
Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.
“In other words,” Dr. Seppala explained, “social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
Surrounding yourself with positive people who provide you with emotional support can keep you connected to the outside world and, in turn, reduce feelings of social isolation. Make the most of your community and invite guests into your home for some low-maintenance and low-budget quality time.
2.Look for disability support groups
Research disability support groups in your area and find other individuals who are facing similar physical and emotional challenges. If you cannot travel to group meetings, find online communities or read inspiring blogs from disability bloggers. By reaching out to people who are undergoing the same struggles, listening to their stories,and connecting with their experiences, individuals can battle the feelings of being misunderstood and unaccepted, and can realize that no one is struggling alone.
Check out the following links to find disability blogs and online or in-person support groups:
3.Use Social Media…the Right Way
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have features that allow you to privately message your friends and family members and stay up-to-date on the life events of people you may not see regularly in person. While social media is a great way to be involved and connected, it can become a toxic contributor to emotional isolation, as users often perceive that other people are leading effortless and exciting lives and thus become envious, afraid of missing out on the fun, and discouraged by the “boredom” of their own lives. Instead of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, the use of messenger features and support groups are highly encouraged to promote social connectedness.
4.Get a Pet
If you are physically able to care for a pet, consider getting a fury companion to keep you company in your home. Dr. Helen Louise Brooks from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom reflects on a recent in-depth analysis of studies showing that pets improve mental health:
“Pets provided acceptance without judgment, giving unconditional support, which [participants] were often not receiving from other family or social relationships,” adds Dr. Brooks.
Additionally, some owners said that their pet forced them to stay connected with the outside world and engage in physical activity. Some pets — such as dogs — were found to encourage social interaction and strengthen community ties.
Having a pet also helped the people to keep a strong sense of “identity, self-worth, and existential meaning.”
If you are physically unable to care for a pet, ask a friend or family member who has one to bring their furry friend over for regular visits, as simply the act of petting an animal relieves psychological stress and physical tension.
5.Take Up a Hobby
Find a physically and financially feasible hobby that allows you to embrace your passions, enjoy the time you spend in your home, and feel a sense of purpose and connectedness to the human experience. Popular hobbies include reading, writing, art, playing an instrument, puzzles and games, photography, and online classes.
For more ideas, check out this list of hobbies for handicapped persons: https://confinedtosuccess.com/great-things-to-do-when-you-are-disabled-and-bored/
- Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Create a safe, quiet space for your mind to relax as you reflect on any negative feelings you may be experiencing. Through writing in a journal, praying, or meditating, confront the social isolation, depression, anxiety, or frustrations that may be burdening you. Repeat affirmations, such as “I am not suffering alone,” “I have a purpose in this world,” and “I am needed, I am loved, I am a whole person.” Addressing your feelings is the first step to working through them. Focus on your breathing, bask in the peacefulness, and spend some quality time with yourself.
- Share Your Story
Start a personal blog, post reflections on social media, or join an online support group to share about your emotional, social, and physical experiences with your disability. Convincing yourself that you are alone in your suffering and that no one understands what you are going through will only increase your feelings of depression and anxiety, will further isolate you from the outside world, and will have negative effects on your health. By opening up to others, embracing your vulnerability, and sharing your testimony, you are empowering yourself and your readers. Your story matters and your courage to share it with the world can lead to heightened feelings of purpose and belonging, and can create deeply-rooted connections across ages, locations, genders, identities, and cultures.
There are many worthwhile nonprofit organizations that need assistance, and shifting the focus from yourself to others can help tremendously to strengthen your social interactions.
Read the article “Where can I volunteer if I’m handicapped?” for ideas, resources, and suggestions: https://money.howstuffworks.com/economics/volunteer/information/where-handicapped-can-volunteer.htm
Although they are tragically common results, depression, anxiety, social isolation, and additional physical health problems do not have to be your fate if you are a homebound or handicapped person. Explore the various ways to engage in social interaction, connect with the outside world, find meaning in your daily life, and grow in solidarity with those who face the same physical and psychological barriers.