When People Don’t Take Your Mental Illness Seriously Because You’re Overweight

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“No one gets approved for mental health.”

The day my caseworker at the local mental health association said those words to me, a wave of acceptance and anger washed over me. I’ve had major depression and social anxiety almost my entire life. A little over a year ago, I decided I had to reach out and get help. Those with their own mental health struggles know how difficult finding help can be. I went to treatment programs, started taking medication and connected with community organizations to help me navigate my journey to wellness. After months of my caseworker trying to convince me to apply for disability benefits, I agreed.

I asked about the process, what I needed from my doctor and what information about my treatment was relevant. She started to list the things I needed and I realized they were physical tests, weight measurements and nutritional allowances. When I reminded her that my disability was a mental illness, that’s when she said it, “No one gets approved for mental health.” She had this look on her face, like something was funny. My body went cold and then hot. I realized what she was saying. My mental health isn’t disabling, my body is.

I am considered overweight and have been fighting to dispel the myth that a larger body size is a disability. Often times, I’ll go through a checklist in my brain of all the ways my weight could be a disability, but the truth is, I rarely check anything off. Sometimes, I actually go through this list to justify my body and my life. I list all of the possible complications of obesity that I don’t have and talk about my activity level or the food I eat. Even so, people don’t care. My actual health doesn’t matter; their perception of my health based on my size does.

“I’m not disabled because of my body, I am disabled because of my mental illness.”

I argued over and over with my caseworker. It didn’t matter. At every subsequent meeting, my physical disability became more and more grave. She told me if I was approved for disability benefits, I could get a special food allowance so I could go on a diet. I could also get approved for weight loss surgery and the drug benefits would cover weight loss drugs. Eventually, I began to tune her out during our appointments while I would cry and rage about it on my own. I kept trying to work up the courage to get a new worker and complain, but I couldn’t get her words or her attitude out of my head. She’s not the only one who has spoken to me like this and made these assumptions about my body. She’s not the first person to look at me and think everything I eat is deep-fried and rolled in sugar. She’s not the first person to look at me and assume I have a whole host of physical illnesses and conditions because of my weight.

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