Mental Health Problems in people with a learning disability

Children and adults with learning disabilities are at least as likely to have a mental health problem as the general population. However, these problems often go undetected as the symptoms can be mixed up with the child or adult’s learning disabilities or challenging behaviour.




Types of mental health problems

  • Depression: low mood, loss of interest in almost all activities, loss of energy
  • Manic-depression: periods of depression followed by periods of extreme joy
  • Anxiety disorders: feelings of dread that disrupt normal daily routines, physical symptoms e.g., increased heart rate and sweating
  • Psychoses: a partial or total loss of contact with reality e.g., seeing, hearing or smelling something that is not really there
  • Organic disorders: e.g., dementia

Why do mental health problems occur?

Many factors increase the chance of a person developing a mental health problem. These include: poor social support, low self-esteem, having little control over ones’ life, not having anything to do and poor coping skills.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to experience all the above.

What can be done to improve mental health?

 1. Recognise the potential problem: children and adults with learning disabilities may not be able to recognise that they have a problem, or seek treatment themselves. This means that someone else has to recognise that the person is showing signs of a mental health problem. Carers have an important role in recognising possible signs.

 2. Get the best possible assessment: Many people with learning disabilities have poor verbal communication skills which makes it difficult for them to be interviewed. Therefore, collecting detailed information from family members and care staff is vital. 

 Treatment: The four most common treatments are:

  • Medication
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Educational Interventions
Support for Families
Support for Professionals
Positive Behaviour Support Workshops

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