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Chartbook on Mental Health and Disability

Section 1: Mental health and disability: Definitions and prevalence

1.3. What types of disabilities are experienced by people with mental disorders?

The National Health Interview Survey on Disability (NHIS-D, 1994-95) estimates the extent of disability associated with mental disorder, using four different definitions of disability. The first, functional disability, includes any serious symptoms of mental illness that severely interfered with life for the past year (as well as physical and sensory limitations, use of personal assistance and other criteria.) The second, work disability, is defined as a limitation in or inability to work as a result of physical, mental or emotional health conditions. Perceived disability refers to whether people consider themselves to have a disability or are considered by others to have one. Finally, disability program recipient includes anyone covered by Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), special education or related services and/or disability pensions.

"Any disability" is an unduplicated count of people in the four other categories; by this measure, more than two-thirds (69.8%) of people with mental disorders have a disability. Using the concept of functional disability, 63.8% of people with mental disorders have a disability, while about one-third of people with mental disorders have a perceived disability (35.8%) or a work disability (30.0%). Less than 20% of those with mental disorders are disability program recipients (18.3%).

More than two-thirds of people with mental disorders have a disability.

People with mental disorders (23.5 million)

Disability status # in
% of U.S.
% of people
with mental
Any disability (1 or more of 4) 16.4 6.3% 69.8%
1) Functional disability 15.0 5.8% 63.8%
2) Work disability 6.1 2.3% 30.0%
3) Perceived disability 8.4 3.2% 35.8%
4) Disability program recipient 4.3 1.7% 18.3%
Figure 3: Prevalence of disability among those with mental disorders

Source: Adler (1996); Kennedy, et al. (1997)

Surveys: NHIS-D, 1994-95

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