What is a Disability?
Under the ADA, the term "disability" means: "(a) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual; (b) a record of such an impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment" (EEOC: "Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities:)
"If my dog calms me during a panic attack, is it a service animal?"
"It depends," according to the U.S. Department of Justice FAQ (Question #4). "The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog's mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA."
What are the most common psychiatric disabilities?
The most common types of psychiatric disabilities are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia. The Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation explains them as follows:
Anxiety disorders, the most common group of mental illnesses, are characterized by severe fear or anxiety associated with particular objects and situations. Most people with anxiety disorders try to avoid exposure to the situation that causes anxiety.
Panic disorder – the sudden onset of paralyzing terror or impending doom with symptoms that closely resemble a heart attack
Phobias – excessive fear of particular objects (simple phobias), situations that expose a person to the possible judgment of others (social phobias), or situations where escape might be difficult (agoraphobia)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder – persistent distressing thoughts (obsessions) that a person attempts to alleviate by performing repetitive, intentional acts (compulsions) such as hand washing
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a psychological syndrome characterized by specific symptoms that result from exposure to terrifying, life-threatening trauma, such as an act of violence, war, or a natural disaster
Mood disorders are also known as affective disorders or depressive disorders. These illnesses share disturbances or changes in mood, usually involving either depression or mania (elation). With appropriate treatment, more than 80% of people with depressive disorders improve substantially.
Major depression – an extreme or prolonged episode of sadness in which a person loses interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
Bipolar disorder (also referred to as manic-depressive illness) – alternating episodes of mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”)
Dysthymia – continuous low-grade symptoms of major depression and anxiety
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a form of major depression that occurs in the fall or winter and may be related to shortened periods of daylight
Research has not yet determined whether schizophrenia is a single disorder or a group of related illnesses. The illness is highly complex, and few generalizations hold true for all people diagnosed with schizophrenia disorders. However, most people initially develop the symptoms between the ages of 15 and 25. Typically, the illness is characterized by thoughts that seem fragmented and difficulty processing information.
Symptoms of schizophrenia disorders are categorized as either “negative” or “positive.” Negative symptoms include social isolation or withdrawal, loss of motivation, and a flat or inappropriate affect (mood or disposition). Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and thought disorders.
These are statistics from the Sidran Institute, which studies Traumatic Stress and provides education and advocacy.
An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
An estimated 5 percent of Americans—more than 13 million people—have PTSD at any given time.
Approximately 8 percent of all adults—1 of 13 people in this country—will develop PTSD during their lifetime.
An estimated 1 out of 10 women will get PTSD at some time in their lives. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.