Definition of Mental Handicap

A mental handicap is an impairment in an individual’s ability to function cognitively, emotionally or physically due to the presence of a psychiatric condition. This condition hinders someone’s ability to perform a task or prevents that person from engaging in an activity without assistance. However, what constitutes a mental handicap varies among federal laws. Therefore, defining what is considered a mental handicap can be somewhat subjective.


The word handicap connotes the existence of a deficit of some sort. However, a mental impairment is a limitation in a person’s ability to function socially or intellectually. Not only is there a stigma attached to the word “handicapped”, but describing mentally impaired individuals as handicapped suggests that there is a void to be filled. The word “disabled” on the other hand suggests a more positive state with a better prognosis. Disabilities can be temporary or permanent, but they are treatable.


There are many types of mental disorders. Depression is a common mood disorder that is diagnosed more in women. Bipolar is another mood disorder and can be genetic. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder involving delusions and hallucinations. Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that includes the experience of panic attacks. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is another type of anxiety disorder resulting from a specific event or serious of events.


The presence of a mental impairment can be life-altering. It can result in the inability to have meaningful relationships, maintain a steady job or just take care of yourself. When detected, the existence of a mental impairment may result in additional help at school, accommodations at work, psychotherapy or medication. Unfortunately, it can also result in the experience of shame. Children may be teased in school, or discrimination may occur at the workplace. This can cause people to become withdrawn and sad.


The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers any mental impairment to be a disability if it significantly limits one or more major life activities. A person considered to be disabled by the EEOC is entitled to request certain accommodations from an employer to be able to perform a job. Individuals unable to work as a result of a mental disability may also be eligible for Social Security Disability. To determine whether or not a person is disabled, the severity, duration and frequency of the impairment are considered as well as an individual’s ability to perform any kind of work with or without accommodation.


Being identified as disabled may be difficult to accept. Although a condition causes some limitation, such information does not necessarily have to be divulged to everyone. Who to tell and the extent of it is something to consider. For example, if your disability interferes with your ability to do your job, you should notify your employer and seek assistance. The same is true for those in school. Also, if specific relationships are affected by it, you may want to explain your condition to that person in confidence. This is not to suggest that having a mental impairment is something to be ashamed of; instead, it is a precaution to consider. Although mental illness may be prevalent and there are laws against disability discrimination, it does continue to occur.

A mental handicap is an impairment in an individual's ability to function cognitively