Many Adults with Disabilities Report Frequent Mental Distress

Adults with disabilities report frequent mental distress almost 5 times as often as adutls without disabilities. Screen patients for mental health concerns.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that adults with disabilities report experiencing more mental distress than those without disabilities. An estimated 17.4 million (32.9%) adults with disabilities experience frequent mental distress, defined as 14 or more reported mentally unhealthy days in the past 30 days. Frequent mental distress is associated with adverse health behaviors, increased health services utilization, mental disorders, chronic diseases, and functional limitations. Prior work has shown that adults with disabilities are more likely to live below the federal poverty level and lack access to health care due to costs—both of which are associated with a higher occurrence of mental health conditions. Increasing social cohesion, community participation, access to health promotion opportunities, and delivery of mental health screening, care, and support services could help reduce mental distress among adults with disabilities.

Read the full article published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Main Findings

  • Adults with disabilities reported mental distress 4.6 times as often as those without disabilities;
  • More than half of all adults with both cognitive and mobility disabilities reported mental distress;
  • Adults with disabilities who reported cigarette smoking, depressive disorders, insufficient sleep, obesity, physical inactivity, or unmet healthcare needs due to cost also reported more mental distress than those without disabilities and these characteristics; and
  • Among adults without disabilities, veterans and retirees were both 20% less likely to report mental distress than nonveterans and individuals who were employed; no differences were found by veteran and employment status for people with disabilities.

About This Study

  • This publication used data from the 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). BRFSS is an annual, landline and cellular telephone-based self-reported survey of noninstitutionalized U.S. adults aged 18 years or older.
  • BRFSS asked the following question about mental distress: Thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?”
  • CDC compared the numbers of those with mental distress among adults with and without disabilities by disability type and selected demographic characteristics, including sex, age, race and ethnicity, veteran status, marital status, employment status, sexual identity, federal poverty level, and urban or rural designation.
  • Causes of frequent mental distress could not be determined from this cross-sectional (also known as a one-time) study.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities is working to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities for overall well-being as people without disabilities by

  • Using data to understand the health and disparities experienced by people with disabilities;
  • Supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities in public health programs; and
  • Educating families, healthcare providers, public health professionals, and the public about the health of people with disabilities across the lifespan.

More Information

Key Findings Reference

Cree RA, Okoro CA, Zack MM, Carbone E (2020). Frequent Mental Distress Among Adults by Disability Status, Disability Type, and Selected Characteristics – United States 2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).