Reduced mobility can harm mental health and wellbeing. People who are not affected don’t give much thought to getting out of bed, going for a walk with friends, or completing simple household chores. But when it becomes harder to move through the world—whether through illness, injury, or aging—everyday actions are more difficult to manage. We may need help to complete once-trivial tasks such as standing up from a chair, going to the bathroom, and driving.
A loss of mobility can be enormously frustrating. It often changes people’s sense of who they are and their ability to maintain their accustomed lifestyle, giving rise to mental health issues and exacerbating mood disorders. If you live with reduced mobility or care for someone who does, it’s essential to understand the mental health implications and be aware of the potential impact.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by chronic feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anger. It’s unsurprising for someone experiencing a loss of mobility to feel unhappy and frustrated, but those feelings may grow into a long-term mood disorder in which sadness and demotivation pervade every aspect of their life.
People with depression may struggle to work, maintain social relationships, look after themselves, or carry out basic daily tasks. Depression increases the risk of suicide, self-harm, and addiction, and often makes it even more difficult to cope with already challenging health issues.
Depression can result in a vicious circle, where lack of mobility causes depression, and depression results in behaviors that worsen the underlying condition. When people don’t look after themselves, exercise, or eat well because they are depressed, there’s a risk that conditions that contribute to poor mobility—obesity, diabetes, arthritis—are exacerbated.
Anxiety is part of your body’s natural response to stress. We have all experienced fear when encountering something unexpected or entering a risky situation. Our body releases hormones that increase our heart rate, speed-up breathing, and make us hyper-alert.
People experience anxiety in different ways: for some, it’s butterflies in the stomach or restlessness; for others, it might be panic attacks or unavoidable negative thoughts. Anxiety becomes a mental health issue when it disrupts your life. You may feel anxious frequently, or day-to-day events may cause an overwhelming sense of fear.
People with mobility issues often suffer from anxiety associated with everyday tasks that have become significantly more challenging than they once were. For example, going to the bathroom can be a source of acute anxiety. The same is true of social interactions: the simple act of traveling to a meeting with friends can be fraught with difficulties for people with limited mobility, resulting in profound feelings of anxiety that can cause people to withdraw from their social life altogether.
Social isolation is frequently associated with mobility issues, especially in older people. As we discussed in the previous section, people with mobility issues often lose contact with their social circles. They are deprived of the emotional and physical support they need to maintain a healthy outlook and lifestyle.
Scientific research shows that social isolation is correlated with a range of poor mental and physical health outcomes, including obesity, cognitive decline, depression, heart disease, and further loss of mobility.
Insomnia is a common side-effect of mobility issues. It’s caused by various factors, including depression and anxiety, an inadequate sleeping environment, reduced exercise, and poor diet.
As with the other mental health issues we’ve looked at, insomnia tends to amplify the negative effects of mobility issues. People who sleep badly are less able to cope with mobility challenges, more likely to become depressed and anxious, and more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as avoiding exercise and eating poorly.
We wrote about techniques people with mobility issues can use to improve their sleep in What Is Good Sleep Hygiene for Someone Who Has Limited Mobility?
If you or someone you care for experiences mental health issues related to mobility limitations, don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional. Help is available, and you don’t have to cope alone.