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Politics and The Needs of Disabled People

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

During the Presidential campaign of 2012 each candidate has made unfortunate and incorrect remarks on a number of issues. One of the worst was Mitt Romney’s comments about 47% of Americans being dependent on the U.S. government. Those remarks were secretly recorded at a fund raiser where he was the key not speaker.

There are a number of factors that made those comments unfortunate and inaccurate. First among these is that half the population of the U.S. is not dependent on receiving government checks for support. Even in a time of great economic stress, the unemployment rate is estimated to be 8% and not 47%. That there are people who rely on government support there is no question. The implications being made in those remarks made by candidate Romney is that these people are “free loaders” or cheats who could work but choose not to. Yes, there are always a few people who fall into this category.

However, there are a wide variety of people who cannot work because of physical and mental disabilities. Most of these rely on disability insurance through the social security system. Among those with mental disabilities are people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder among others. While some individuals are able to do some work thanks to modern anti psychotic medications, most are too fragile to do so. Their symptoms of delusions and hallucinations are so intrusive that their “executive functions” or ability to carry out daily and work tasks are seriously impaired. At least some of these have comorbid diagnoses. This means that there are additional psychiatric problems along with their primary problem. For instance, some of these people are diagnosed with serious neurological disorders. Another comorbid disorder is substance abuse. For some, alcohol and substance abuse are attempts to escape their mental illness.

The danger of Mr. Romney’s remarks is that they further stigmatize people with serious disabilities of all types. In my direct experience over many years I know that those with psychiatric disabilities want to work and sometimes try to work against medical advice. Too often the stress of work causes a relapse into psychosis.

Those with medical and psychiatric disabilities of all kinds and types are not free loaders or loafers who are trying to get away with something. There is nothing attractive about having a disability and, for the average disabled person, there is nothing attractive about not being able to work.

Mr. Romney is not the only politician who has made unfortunate and incorrect remarks. I wish our leaders were more senstive to the feelings and needs of our people. People with disabilities who are government dependent have often have self esteem problems worsened by comments like these.

What is your opinion?

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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