The Social Construction of Mental Disabilities in Schools

1693 (4 pages)
Download for Free
Important: This sample is for inspiration and reference only

Disability is a social construct that is reinforced by our schools, mental health institutions, prisons, and public housing. The way people are diagnosed and treated for certain disabilities is largely dependent on both race and class, especially inside schools. Our school personnel have certain biases that negatively impact and limit opportunities for Black students. Medicalization inside our schools is directly related to the school-to-prison pipeline, leading to the criminalization and punishment of our Black students.

Whether or not a person is considered disabled is dependent on the society in which they live. Disability is defined as “a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities” (“Disability”). This definition uses broad terms like “certain tasks” and “typical daily activities,” which begs the question: what tasks and abilities? It depends on what society deems “typical.” A person who requires a wheelchair may find it difficult to travel on an uneven sidewalk, but if maintaining the quality of infrastructure was prioritized, there would be no issue. It’s easy to go up an elevator, however, if an office building only has stairs, this same person may lose out on a job opportunity. Similarly, a person with an intellectual disability may require a different form of teaching. Not everyone learns in the same way and just because our education system sticks to one specific method, that doesn’t mean everyone who doesn’t fit the standard is unable to learn. A disability is only a “mismatch between a person’s capabilities and the requirements of their life situation and culture” (“Mismatch” 1). Our society requires and expects everyone to prove their value through work. Everyone must be able to provide to society in a very specific way and if anyone needs help, they’re seen as less valuable. If a student who requires stimulation is forced to sit quietly and learn auditorily with infrequent, short breaks, they’re not going to be performing at their best. That student isn’t incapable of learning the same material as everyone else and that student doesn’t necessarily need any help; that student just needs to learn differently. Our society views people with so-called mental illnesses as “social junk” (Steward and Russell 2). People with disabilities have both limited educational and employment opportunities because everyone is expected to function in the same way, and when they don’t, they’re outcasted and seen as valueless. A disabled man named Matthew requires state funding because he is unable to work. For this reason, he would be deemed unproductive and therefore, valueless. He, however, lives a fulfilling life, “tak[ing] care of livestock, help[ing] around the house, and swimming every day” (Weinstein 3). He is productive in an “atypical” way, yet productive, nonetheless. In a society where people are expected to take care of livestock, Matthew would not be labeled with a disability; he would function “typically.” The severity of one’s disability is dependent entirely on their environment. An example of a community in which people with disabilities are not seen as less able is found in the movie Midsommar. The main characters visit a Swedish village and this community has hundreds of sacred books all written by those with disabilities. They are sacred to the community because they believe their impairments allow them to see things they cannot. The current prophet in the movie is unable to write, so the elders in their community interpret what they think he means (Midsommar). In this village, so-called disabled people are not seen as any less able than the rest of their community and they’re even praised. The labeling of disabilities and the stigma that comes with them depends entirely on the society one lives in.

No time to compare samples?
Hire a Writer

✓Full confidentiality ✓No hidden charges ✓No plagiarism

Our society needs to be more accommodating in many ways but especially for our students. The medical model, a multi-billion-dollar industry, has expanded into schools. “The medical industrial complex relies heavily on the diagnosis and treatment of various conditions” (Heitzeg 70). Many children are being diagnosed with “disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intellectual disabilities and specific learning disorders. Analysis of the use of these diagnoses reveals race, class, and gender disparity” (Heitzeg 70). The medicalization of “disruptive” behaviors is often applied more to white students while Black students are still criminalized at a disproportionate rate. Medicalization in schools still does apply to children of color, however, they are diagnosed with more stigmatized disorders. “Black students are overrepresented in special education classes, to be served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and are more likely than their white counterparts to be labeled with immutable diagnoses such as mental retardation, cognitive impairment, and developmental disabilities” (Heitzeg 71). The stigma of these labels, along with racial bias of teachers and school faculty, results in a greater risk of suspension and expulsion, limiting educational opportunities for Black students. As opposed to accommodating students with these diagnoses, the only solution our society currently has is medical treatment. Because treatment is privatized and mental health services are no longer publicly funded, access to the medical model is costly. “The medical model reinforced a race and class dynamic, as it is overwhelmingly white middle and upper class who can afford these expensive services” (Heitzeg 70). How can these students be expected to thrive, let alone survive, in a system that seems so against them?

The medical industrial complex and criminalization of Black students has a direct relationship with the school-to-prison pipeline. Kayleb Moon-Robinsoon was a Black 11-year-old student diagnosed with autism at Linkhorne Middle School. He was arrested for disorderly conduct after kicking a trash can during an emotional meltdown and again, a few weeks later, for leaving the classroom with other students without permission after a new rule that stated he had to wait until all the other students left. The officer “grabbed him, slammed him down, handcuffed him, and took him to juvenile court,” where he filed a charge of felony assault on a police officer. “Virginia schools arrest and suspend students at three times the national average and, consistent with national trends, disproportionately suspend Black students with disabilities for minor infractions” (Heitzeg 69). The medical industrial complex expanded alongside the prison industrial complex regarding treating substance use disorders. The medicalization of substance abuse, as opposed to criminalization, allowed certain drug offenders to be treated and rehabilitated, instead of having to serve jail time. However, the majority of those who can afford these services are middle- and upper-class white people. As earlier stated, the medical industrial complex made its way into schools, which “explains part of the extreme overrepresentation of students of color in arrest rates” (Heitzeg 70). With limited educational opportunities, Black students are at increased risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline. Deviance is defined as illness in the medical model, which results in treatment, as opposed to willful rule-breaking, which results in punishment. Our Black students are criminalized and punished for the same deviance that their white counterparts are being medically treated for. Racial bias plays a great role in whether or not Black students are given treatment or criminalized. Kayleb was criminalized, with his diagnosed autism completely disregarded. The officer who arrested him used an extremely unnecessary amount of force on a young boy who struggled to even comprehend the situation. Kayleb’s story is not unique; this is the sad reality for many Black students.

Another issue that low-income communities have to deal with is low income and public housing. People who have a disability, are of minority ethnicity, and/or receive social security make up a disproportionate amount of those living in public housing. Residents of public housing usually don’t have many options and the average annual household income is $14,511 (Walsh 1). They are forced to live in poor conditions. Public housing can have serious mental and physical health effects on residents. One health risk that some low-income environments have is lead poisoning. “The Black population has the highest rate of poverty at 24.1%. Children living in impoverished communities have the highest prevalence of lead poisoning” (Zee 2). Studies have shown that lead poisoning results in the brain’s behavioral development problems and poisoned children are seven times more likely to drop out of school (Zee 1). The National Center for Healthy Housing on Childhood Lead Exposure and Educational Outcomes found that lead-exposed students had higher rates of “low IQ, learning dysfunction, and educational underachievement. Children with the minimum “safe” blood lead level scor[ed] significantly lower on elementary school reading and math examinations than students with lower levels of lead” (Zee 5). Exposure to lead is also a factor in whether a student is placed into special education classes. Freddie Gray was a young black man who was diagnosed with ADHD after being exposed to lead in his home. He was placed into special education classes and with our current education system, it is unsurprising that he ended up dropping out of school. Freddie found his way into a life of crime and built up a substantial criminal record. He was eventually murdered by police during an arrest. So, not only are Black children being poisoned by their own homes, but they are also being punished for the consequences that come from said poison.

Our education system needs a radical reformation that starts accommodating all students and their ways of learning. We need to erase the stigma against mental and intellectual disabilities and provide assistance to those who need it. Our schools need to be properly staffed with people who are trained and understanding of people’s different needs. Trainings should teach about internalized biases and how to combat them. Medical institutions need to be publicly funded and made accessible to everyone. Mental health needs to be made a higher priority. Our health insurance system should not be a privatized industry that can deny coverage of certain treatments or services in order to make a profit. Mental health needs to be completely covered. It’s important to note that not all needs will be met, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Someone will always have to adapt but we need to be understanding of our differences and become as accommodating as possible.

You can receive your plagiarism free paper on any topic in 3 hours!

*minimum deadline

Cite this Essay

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below

Copy to Clipboard
The Social Construction of Mental Disabilities in Schools. (2020, December 24). WritingBros. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Social Construction of Mental Disabilities in Schools.” WritingBros, 24 Dec. 2020,
The Social Construction of Mental Disabilities in Schools. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
The Social Construction of Mental Disabilities in Schools [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Dec 24 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
Copy to Clipboard

Need writing help?

You can always rely on us no matter what type of paper you need

Order My Paper

*No hidden charges