Up to 40% of those with a learning disability suffer from Mental Health problems.
So why are we not talking more about Mental Health and learning disabilities?
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Mental health is a lot less of a taboo now, with many well-known personalities such as Demi Lavato, Ryan Reynolds and Katie Price all coming forward and talking about suffering with some kind of mental illness. Only last month we had Mental Health Awareness week another necessary movement to continue the conversation about it.
But recently I got thinking about mental health and children with special needs.
Anxiety is often associated with children with Autism as well as those with Learning Disabilities. Anxiety may not be something you automatically think of when you think of mental health but it is very much a mental health issue.
What is Anxiety?
Well according to the NHS website “Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe….”
On the NHS website, it also talks about another more debilitating condition called GAD or Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This condition is long term and can be experienced within a range of situations.
“People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue. GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include:
• feeling restless or worried
• having trouble concentrating or sleeping”
This got me even more intrigued about the impact of anxiety and special needs. I know with my own daughter she is often restless, worried and can display ‘anxiousness’ in a range of situations. I automatically assumed it was more of a developmental reaction I was seeing i.e a more immature, baby like response to changes.
But as she has gotten older and has developed, her agitation and unease still happens, so I now wonder if is actually anxiety rather than a developmental reaction. Her concentration is fleeting, she fidgets and she can have a ‘meltdown’ within a seemingly ‘easy’ situation.
What are the signs of Anxiety?
Anxiety can look and manifest itself differently in everyone. The person may exhibit some or all of the following examples:
Physical signs of distress
Crying or seemingly not listening
I know with my own daughter she is often restless, worried and can display ‘anxiousness’ in a range of situations. I automatically assumed it was more of a developmental, reaction I was witnessing i.e a more immature, baby like response to changes around her.
But as she has gotten older and has developed, her agitation and unease still happens. So I do wonder if it is actually Anxiety rather than a developmental reaction. Her concentration is fleeting, she fidgets and she can have a ‘meltdown’ with a flick of a switch at ‘nothing’.
Any of these sound familiar?
A child, especially with additional needs can be said to be having a ‘meltdown’. They may lash out, seem distracted, nervy and want to leave the situation immediately. If your child is non-verbal, that adds to the confusion of the situation. They cannot express what is bothering them and you may not be able to interpret. So it may seem like ‘nothing’ has triggered them.
When we are anxious our body releases adrenalin and we shift into fight or flight mode. For many children with Learning Difficulties interpreting these thoughts can be too difficult. All they feel is the flood of different emotions in their bodies and they react in the best way for them.
Children are suffering
These are staggering statistics. But what about children with additional needs specifically? According to a NICE report Anxiety is often “associated with significant long-term disability and can have a lifelong course of relapse and remission”.
“…the prevalence rate of a diagnosable psychiatric disorder is 36% in children and adolescents with learning disabilities, compared with 8% of those who did not have a learning disability. And of these young people, they were “33 times more likely to be on the autistic spectrum”. (MentalHealth.Org)
With approximately 1.5 million people
in the UK with some form of learning difficulty(Guardian)
It seems strange there is not more investment being placed on supporting and understanding mental health for those with additional needs. Starting when they are young.
Instead, there is less with around £85 million pounds
being taken away from adolescent
mental health services over the last 7 years. (Independent)
At 5 years old, I am wondering if my daughter is showing symptoms of Anxiety in her behaviour. If this is true – there are ways I could help her.
First of all by not categorising it as ‘behavioural’ and hoping she will ‘grow out of it’. I need to be taking practical steps to help her lower her anxiety, instead of leaving it to grow and develop….
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