The question is not a hard one, when all's said and done. No harder than name, age, address, criminal convictions or any of the fields which form the mainstay of your average application form.
Nevertheless, 'any disabilities?' is a phrase capable of rendering me wordless, not to mention the 'if yes, please elaborate' that follows it. I pride myself on being open about the way I experience mental health but I can't pretend it doesn't feel like a bit of a thankless task when faced with the fear that this same openness could be so very detrimental to my future.
I think the reasons for the initial recoil which accompanies admission of mental health issues are manifold.
There are no clearly drawn parameters to depression
Firstly, depression (not dissimilar to many other disabilities I might add) is a word covering a wide spectrum of emotions, thoughts and deeds. There are no clearly drawn parameters to depression - everyone's experience of it is different. This, I imagine, makes it slightly more complex to cater for depression as a disability. The best treatment for one person may well completely backfire on another. There are no talking books, wheelchair ramps or braille to assuage these situations - just a turbulent, unpredictable volcano of emotion which can so feasibly erupt at any given moment.
Secondly, the use of the word disability in conjunction with depression is a contentious one - it sounds ridiculous to talk in terms of a hierarchy of disability but if that is the overriding principle, depression is pretty low down on the pecking order. I'd hazard a guess it's an issue of how much 'control' I'm perceived to have.
people frequently tell me that depression is just a matter of 'thinking more cheerfully'
Even in 2012, people frequently tell me that depression is just a matter of 'thinking more cheerfully' or even, the manic depressive's bete noir, just to 'cheer up'. If we consider this in terms of telling a blind person just to 'look harder' or a deaf person to 'listen more carefully'... well, then we expose the latent hypocrisy here. I can no more control my depression than a wheelchair-bound multiple sclerosis sufferer can decide to start walking. I can minimise its effects, dull the pain, and carry on living but some ties are inherently un-severable. So to quibble my use of the term disability seems at best pedantic, at worst, ignorant.
As far as I'm concerned this quagmire which has become inherent in what should be a fairly straight forward application process is the result of people not communicating effectively or enough. The shame which is still so prevalent means not only that sufferers are unwilling to disclose the details of their illness but that non-sufferers are unaware of what depression, at the most basic level, really is.
So sufferers... employers or course providers are not afraid to ask to help
Time to Change, by encouraging the mainstream discussion of depression, could circumvent this. So sufferers are not afraid to ask for help and employers or course providers are not afraid to ask to help. If an employer was seen to discriminate on grounds of race, he would, rightly, be blacklisted, prosecuted and condemned. It is time that the same standards were seen to be evident in conjunction with mental health. It's definitely Time to Change.