Mental Health and Depression

Mental Health in People with Learning Disabilities

When we speak about mental health we are referring to a wide range of issues from the
anxieties and grief that are a part of life, to the very debilitating, suicidal depressions, or deeprooted anxieties and illnesses that make us lose touch with reality.

Mental health really becomes a critical issue when it seriously limits a person’s ability to cope with life on a daily basis or when behaviour becomes in some way concerning to other
people. Serious mental illness can be very alarming, both for the individual sufferer and
also for those who care for them.

However, while mental distress can cause major disruption in people’s lives, there are some effective ways to help individuals manage their illness so that they can lead successful and fulfilling lives.

Depression in People with a Learning Disability

The word ‘depression’ is used to describe everyday feelings of low mood which can affect
us all from time to time. Feeling sad or fed up is a normal reaction to experiences that are upsetting, stressful or difficult; those feelings will usually pass.

Many people will get depressed at some time in their lives, including people with learning
disability. Bereavement, disappointment, stress, or illness are some possible causes, but
depression may also occur for no apparent reason. Generally periods of depression are
short but sometimes they last much longer, when special help is needed.

The problem for many people with learning disabilities is that they are not able to express
their feelings easily in words. So their actions may have to speak for them. Sudden changes in behaviour or mood, or not being able to do things they could previously do may all be important signs of depression. These changes in behaviour are often mistakenly viewed as just a phase, and so the right help may not be given. Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to forget that people with learning disabilities have feelings, too.

If a person is affected by depression, they are not ‘just’ sad or upset. They have an illness which means that intense feeling of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness are accompanied by physical effects such as sleeplessness, a loss of energy, or physical aches and pains.

Sometimes people may not realise how depressed they are, especially if they have been
feeling the same for a long time, if they have been trying to cope with their depression by
keeping themselves busy, or if their depressive symptoms are more physical than emotional.

Below is a list of the most common symptoms of depression.

If a person has experienced four or more of these symptoms, for most of the day nearly
every day, for over two weeks, then help should be sought.

  • less interest in activities which are usually enjoyed and/or feeling tired all the time
  • no get up and go, inability to sleep or waking up too early
  • eating too little, too much, losing weight
  • sleeping all the time, physical aches and pains and/or avoiding other people
  • inability to relax or restlessness and/or being snappy and irritable
  • feeling bad or guilty, or worthless and/or loss of confidence

People with learning disabilities can show other signs such as:

  • sudden or gradual changes in behaviour, outbursts of anger, destructiveness or self harm
  • seeking reassurance, wandering or searching
  • loss of skills, loss of ability to communicate
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • physical illness, complaining about aches and pains
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