Life Expectancy with Disability Continues to Rise

Understanding the importance of mental health can improve outlooks.

Posted Aug 12, 2019

Slon_pics/Pixabay
Source: Slon_pics/Pixabay

The general life expectancy rate for people with disabilities has steadily increased over the past four decades, and this trend is forecast to continue throughout the next decade. However, life expectancy rates can be unsettling numbers that can lead to negative outlooks in people with disabilities. Understanding how mental health can affect some individual rates may lead to more optimistic outlooks.

My post-spinal cord injury life expectancy as a teenager was 17 years – and that was if I survived the first 2 years. Survival during those early years was far from certain in my case, and because of this, my own personal outlook regarding how long I would live was not optimistic. Something only a handful of people have known about me up until now is that – until recently – I never expected to see my 40th birthday. I never expected to see my 35th birthday either. My 30th birthday was a solid maybe though!

I turned 40 last month, but I never thought that was actually a possibility until only a couple of years ago. I always had that 17-year life expectancy in the back of my head, and being quite ill at times reinforced it. However, there came a point when I realized that there were variables that obviously did not apply to me. This realization led to a more optimistic outlook.

I would be lying to myself if I thought that my less than optimistic outlook did not affect my life. For example, I might have done a lot less pro bono work if I thought that retirement might actually be a thing someday. So it did affect my decision-making to an extent – perhaps for the better. In all seriousness though, there was a reserved carpe diem aspect to it.

My mental health, however, I can honestly write was not affected. I believe that faith, a strong support system, a professional background in cognitive behavioral therapy, and an altruistic lifestyle helped in my case. Not everyone has the same experience with a disability though. For far too many it is a dark and hopeless experience which takes its toll on one’s body and psyche.

Disability is a significant risk factor for depression, and depression can affect the morbidity and mortality rates for many of the health issues that people with disabilities are susceptible to. It is important for everyone to get help when they notice depressive symptoms affecting their quality of life. However, getting help is especially important for people with increased risks of health issues.  

Suicide also lowers the life expectancy of people with disabilities. Research by Meltzer et al. (2012) has found that people with physical disabilities are four times more likely to attempt suicide due to the financial and physical hardships of disability. A suicidal ideation is an ideation regardless of whether it is active or passive. Reach out for an appropriate level of help no matter how fleeting the thought.

It is most likely impossible to not have any feelings toward what may be a shorter time on Earth than one would wish. Those feelings do not have to negatively affect mental health though. The key is to reach out and get real help when it is needed. Doing so may lead to a longer life.

If you are thinking of harming yourself or attempting suicide, please tell someone who can help right away. Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

References

Fuller-Thomson, E., Carroll, S. Z., & yang, W. (2017). Suicide attempts among individuals with specific learning disorders: An underrecognized Issue. Hammill Institute on Disabilities51(3), 283-292.

Metzer, H., Brugha, T., Dennis, M. S., Hassiotis, A., Jenkins, R., McManus, S., Rai, D., & Bebbington, P. (2012). Alter6(1), 1-12.

Noh, J. W., Kwon, Y. D., Park, J., Oh, I. H., & Kim, J. (2016). PLoS One11(11).