What is a Psychiatric Disability?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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A psychiatric disability is a psychological or mental disorder or condition that interferes with a person’s ability to perform otherwise routine tasks, such as attend classes at school or perform duties at work. This type of disability is often afforded many of the same legal protections as physical disabilities. There are a number of different conditions that can be considered a disability and they may include social disorders, such as those that cause anxiety, and mood disorders. A psychiatric disability may also be the result of medication taken for a disorder, and not necessarily be caused by a disorder itself.

Much like other types of disability, a psychiatric disability is generally considered to be a condition that causes a person to be unable to perform various tasks that he or she might otherwise perform. In the US, psychiatric disabilities are often recognized under the purviews of equal opportunity employment, and people with disabilities of any kind cannot be legally discriminated against. These laws also indicate that an employee or student does not necessarily have to identify his or her psychiatric disability specifically, but can instead indicate how a medical condition or medical treatment affects his or her ability to perform certain tasks.


Many different types of mental disorder can be considered a psychiatric disability, though anxiety disorders and mood disorders are among the most common. Anxiety disorders include those conditions that instill intense feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic in a person when faced with certain situations. These include various phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mood disorders are those conditions that can have frequent and dramatic effects on a person’s personality and mood. These types of psychiatric disability would include bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

While many psychological and mental conditions can create enough interference in a person’s life to be considered a psychiatric disability, the medication taken with many mental disorders can also create problems for a person. Many medications used for treating mental illnesses and disorders can cause side effects such as intense drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness. Someone who may be expected to operate a vehicle, for example, would not be able to do so while taking medication that can cause intense drowsiness. If this medication was required for the treatment of a mental illness, then the side effects would be considered a psychiatric disability and he or she could not be fired due to this disability. A company would likely need to try to find another position for that person, which did not require the operation of a vehicle.


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