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Mental illness: America's largest cause of disability

When an individual is struggling with cancer, there are tests that show the effects of the disease. When an individual is struggling with a mental illness, there is a lack of any measurable indications that they are struggling -- but this does not mean that their life is not dramatically impacted. In both instances, an afflicted individual with the disease can be rendered unable to work.

One highly educated man began struggling with his mental health when he was working toward his Ph.D. Suddenly, at age 28 the man began to lose touch with reality. He experienced delusions in which horns were growing form his head. He struggled with intense side effects as he worked to find the proper medication to manage his mental health.

After 10 years of struggling to continue working and managing his mental illness, he locked himself in a bathroom alone and wielding a machete to fight off enemies known only to him. At that point in time, it was clear he could no longer work and needed to focus his efforts on his mental health. He began collecting Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and continued fighting to find a way to manage -- oscillating between giving up on medication and struggling to find the right combination.

He finally got stable in 2001, and now he works to share his story with others struggling with mental illness. The population of New Jersey individuals struggling with mental illness is larger than some may realize. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, more than a quarter of adults over 18 have a diagnosable mental health disorder in any given year.

For individuals struggling with a mental health disorder that prevents them from working, understanding their rights under the law could mean access to benefits that will allow them to focus on regaining and managing their health.

Source: Kitsap Sun, "Facing the challenge of mental illness," Rob Woutat, Sept. 13, 2012

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