Hidden disability.

Can we really say, we have a hidden disability? Here’s what I think: invisible or uneducated?

Jonathan Arenburg
Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan is a mental health blogger, published author, and speaker. He has appeared in numerous newspapers and has been a guest on many podcasts.

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While sitting down to my morning cup of coffee and mindlessly scrolling Facebook, I came across a term. A term that, as far as I’m concerned, is a surface-level thought. What’s this term, you ask? Hidden disability.

Firstly, before I start, let me say, I don’t hate these two words wedged together. However, I’m not overly fond of them either. Moreover, is it really true that mental illness is invisible? Or are we missing something? I believe it’s the latter.

As many of my readers know, I am not a fan of Trending Buzzwords. Therefore, the more I see the words “hidden disability,” the more I wonder about their validity. Again, I’m not suggesting that we launch a crusade against using the term, but what I am wondering is, can we do better?

Read our last post: My goal in life is to be happy.

My feelings are – yes, indeed we can do better. To start with, I think it’s simply a surface level thought; that is to say that, while we mean well, we run with what we read on the internet.

Hear me out.

In my opinion, when we pick up on what’s #trending, we end up doing what I like to call the “copy and paste effect”; where we jump on the popularity bandwagon without so much as a thought – we simply share the sh$% out of the trend. One example is “self-care.” I explain my feelings on this popular one liner below.

Self-care is important but be aware

So, I guess the first question we should ask ourselves is – what’s this doing to our critical thinking skills? I will go out on a limb and say, it dulls them at the very least.

What concerns me the most about this social-media situation is the lack of action it produces. Simply sharing a #hastag (see what I did there?) does little to actually change things. In other words, more is needed than a social-media post.

Front and back cover of the road to mental wellness - Work in progress!
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Furthermore, if we want to “spread awareness” about #mentalillness, my question to you is, is that enough? I feel like we are asking people to think about mental health, but not giving it a lot of thought ourselves. What good is that?

So, the real question, or so I believe, is: are mental disabilities really invisible? And if not, what do they look like? I know, some are saying, “They are invisible; how would you know?” Hear me out.

 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the go-to diagnostic tool for psychiatrists. In it, there are an entire range of symptoms associated with mental disorders. Let’s take PTSD as an example. Post-traumatic stress disorder has its own set of symptoms that are used to determine a PTSD diagnosis. They include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, hypervigilance etc.

Types and symptoms of PTSD

These “symptoms,” are in there. Furthermore, you must be exhibiting X, Y, Z to meet the diagnosis criteria for the disorder. Therefore, symptoms of a mental-health condition are observable and thus, we can see them.

I believe it’s more accurate to say, “We can’t see them because we don’t know what we are looking at.” Then if this is true, we need to look beyond the surface and acknowledge that we need to become better educators. Similarly, those who can’t see the symptoms, need to educate themselves.

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Let’s take depression, for example. Depression has real, observable symptoms – it’s far from an invisible illness. While it’s true that a sufferer can be good at hiding it or have high functioning depression, how it makes one feel is still there.

Now, let’s imagine that you have #depression and you spend a lot of time in bed, your partner can see this as lazy, or educate themselves about the symptoms. Staying in bed isn’t a choice – it’s exhaustion and mental pain preventing one from living their life. Perhaps what’s missing is being believed by others. Either way, that doesn’t mean your disability is invisible.

What makes the lack of education dangerous is the misunderstanding or another’s assumptions based on what they think they see. An employer for example, may discipline you for using too much sick time rather than asking, “Are you okay?” or “How can we support you?”

DEPRESSION IS NOT LAZINESS. This is not opinion; this is a well-documented fact. However, if we keep using terms like “hidden disability,” more people are going to be vulnerable to job loss, difficulty finding and maintaining relationships, and feeling worthy.

Learn more about depression

In closing, I will leave you with this question: “What meaningful action can you take to help others see that mental illness is not an invisible disability?”


headsoht of Jonarthan in sunglasses and facial hair - Invisable disability
Jonathan Arenburg.

Let’s educate, not perpetuate

Jonathan Arenburg, author of The Road To Mental Wellness

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Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan Arenburg is a mental health blogger, S speaker, writer, and published author; He is also the host of the mental wellness podcast, #thewellnesstalks He has also appeared in the i'Mpossible's Lemonade Stand III. He has also been a contributing writer for Mental health talk, a column in his local paper. In addition, he has also written for the mental health advocacy organization; Sick Not Weak. Jonathan has also appeared on several mental health-related podcasts Including: A New Dawn, The Depression Files, Books and Authors, and Men Are Nuts. Since being put off work because of PTSD, Jonathan has dedicated his time to his mental wellness journey while helping others along the way. Educated as an addictions' counsellor, he has dedicated most of his professional life of eighteen years, working with those who have intellectual disabilities, behavioural challenges, and mental illness. He has also spent fifteen years in the volunteer fire service helping his community. His new book (2021), “The Road To Mental Wellness,” goes into detail about his life-long battle with depression, anxiety and more recently, PTSD. In it, he hopes to provide insight on how mental illness cultivates over a lifetime and, if not recognized and treated, how it impacts the entirety of one's life; right from childhood into the adult years. Jonathan lives with his two children in Nova Scotia, Canada.

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