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Taking the Stigma out of Mental Disability in Utah

Taking the Stigma out of Mental Disability in Utah

In many cultures, a mental disability is one of the stigmatizing conditions a person can have. While the pressure and idealized forms of physical beauty are more visible, the way we value intellectual functioning—or rather the ways in which devalue a lack of intellectual ability—can lead to some pretty harmful avoidance and isolation of those with less cognitive capacity.

And yet, intelligence is far from a silver bullet. Persistence is a better indicator of success. As it is, the vast majority of people are never going to be rocket scientists or linguistic analysts. Those who struggle with substance abuse or a personality disorder may struggle to maintain gainful employment, while an individual with far less intellectual functioning can accomplish immense things given the right environment.


Cognitive Assessment and Mental Disability

While it’s typically possible to get a rough idea of cognitive performance from a person’s daily behavior and communication skills, some results may surprise even experienced clinicians. That’s why they conduct the tests! The primary goal of these assessments is not say how smart someone is but rather what level of functioning the person can expect to achieve—both with and without skills training services.

Most intelligence tests create a single, aggregate number, but it’s often the results of each subscale that are the most revealing. These subscales describe major areas of cognition including verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, processing speed, and working memory. By identifying relative cognitive strengths and weaknesses, psychologists can then describe the environmental factors and skills training programs that are likely to produce the best outcomes.


Causes and Individual Factors in Utah

Diseases and developmental disorders are the most common causes. Many people are familiar with Down syndrome, hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and heavy metal poisoning. Likewise, Many Utah parents know about the state’s high autism rates, a developmental disorder that results in mental disability about half the time. Later in life, a few different types of dementia also have the potential to create cognitive disruptions.

Between the hazards of the Utah wilderness and a high participation for military service, trauma and head injuries are another common source of mental disability in Utah. Rather than a disability, most mental health professionals in Utah will refer to the effects of these injuries as a deficit or impairment. In fact, cognitive impairment may be used to describe any lack of cognitive functioning.

Without a supportive environment, almost anyone can suffer from social stigmatization. But even in an ideal environment, many people with new cognitive impairments may struggle with their sense of self-worth. Put another way, the stigma placed on these individuals by society may not compare to the judgment and feelings of inadequacy they lump on themselves.


Accessing Mental Health Services

We wish there was some magic wand we could wave and remove the stigma associated with mental disability. Sensitivity training and community outreach programs are moving the needle in the right direction in a wider content. For the individual, however, there is no difference-maker like skills training programs that provide personalized assistance and resource building. In Utah, there are numerous programs and professionals who can provide these mental health services. A reticence to seek out these types of services can substantially lower quality of life and prevent a fuller cultural assimilation. This barrier to access is one of the negative impacts of social stigmatization.



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