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Thrive | Mental Health

Know the Facts: Understanding Mental Health and Learning Difficulties

In the UK, it is estimated that almost 40% of young people with learning difficulties also have problems with mental health. According to learning disability charity MENCAP, this is ‘more than double the rate of mental health problems in the general population’. Even though people with learning difficulties are more likely to experience mental health problems, it can take longer for them to be properly diagnosed.

What are learning difficulties?

A learning difficulty is any condition which can make it more difficult to gain knowledge or skills. People with learning difficulties may have problems with everyday tasks like household chores or talking to people. Not all people with learning difficulties are alike: some are able to live almost fully independent lives, while others need constant support.

Despite what many people believe, learning difficulties and mental health problems are not the same thing. Unlike mental health problems, which can improve with treatment, learning difficulties will affect the person every day for their entire life.

Why are mental health problems so common among people with learning difficulties?

The causes of mental health problems in people with learning difficulties are similar to those of people without learning difficulties. Mental health problems may be genetically inherited or may be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

However, people with learning difficulties also have added issues which can affect their likelihood of developing a mental disorder, like:


Disability charity Scope have recently uncovered that 85% of young disabled people have felt lonely. As a result, over half have experienced depression and anxiety.


Young people with special educational needs are twice as likely to experience bullying at school.

Living conditions

40% of disabled young people live in poverty, which can cause mental health problems.

For those with learning difficulties, getting diagnosed with a mental illness is not always easy. Some symptoms of mental health problems may be similar to those of the learning difficulties, so the real cause may go unnoticed for a long time.

For further support and information, visit MIND’s dedicated page, or the MENCAP website.

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