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Women With Physical Disabilities And Mental Health Problems

December 1, 2010

Earlier this year, PhD student Julia Smith published a study that raises a very interesting issue. She interviewed 12 women aged 18-65 with physical disabilities who also have mental health issues, in an attempt to find out whether mental health services in the UK currently meet the needs of users who also have physical disabilities.

The results were summarised for the guest column of the most recent issue of Disability Now magazine.

The issue is one I had not thought about before, but after reading this article I realise that it is an important one that deserves and needs more detailed study.

A few points that come to my mind about the research methods used by Julia Smith are:

For an issue like this it is an advantage that qualitative interviews, rather than questionnaires, were used as this allowed participants to explain their experiences in detail, which then gave the researcher a clearer idea of the situations faced by the group she was researching.

The wide age range of the group of women interviewed is another advantage, as mental health problems can develop at any stage in life and may improve or become more serious over a person’s lifetime- and also as that person’s level of physical disability improves or becomes more serious.

The number of women interviewed (sample size, for those who know sociology) is very small. I would like to hope that this is because there are not many physically disabled women with mental health problems around to be studied- unfortunately, I think that’s wishful thinking.

One more realistic reason for this small sample size, however, could be that the number of physically disabled women who have mental health problems and can communicate verbally is very small. A number of physically disabled people who do not have verbal communication use multiple choice to communicate. Such women would not have been able to participate in detailed face to face interviews- although they would most probably have been able to complete a multiple choice questionnaire. So while a larger sample would have been very useful, this would have required giving participants a choice between detailed spoken interviews and less detailed, written, multiple choice questionnaires.

Also, nothing has been said about the race of the group of women interviewed. This may have made a difference to the women’s experiences, as women from ethnic minority groups with physical disabilities and mental health problems are likely to face four times as much discrimination from professionals.

Another disadvantage of the study is that no men were interviewed, so the results of the research cannot be applied to men. The issue being researched is as important for men as it is for women, so it would be very useful and interesting to know the results of similar research which could be carried out on a group of physically disabled men with mental health issues, or a group of both men and women with physical disabilities and mental health issues.

If you are interested in reading the full piece of research, it is available online here.

Cross posted here.

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