Some people don't understand there is a difference between a learning disabilities and mental health problems. We explore what the differences are between learning disability and mental health, and whether it's possible to have both.

What is a mental health problem?

A mental health problem is a term used to cover a range of emotional, psychological or psychiatric distress experienced by people.

About a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.

Is mental health the same as learning disability?

No! Unlike learning disability, mental health problems can affect anyone at any time and may be overcome with treatment. A learning disability is a reduced intellectual difficulty with everyday activities which affects someone for their whole life.

Can you have a learning disability and a mental health problem?

Yes you can. In fact, research suggests that between 41% and 27% of adults with a learning disability have a mental health problem and about 40% of children with a learning disability suffer from mental health problems.

In the past, it was rarely recognised when a person with learning disability suffered from mental health problems and, even in recent times, often mental health problems in people with a learning disability are overlooked or underestimated.

Why are people with a learning disability more likely to have mental health problems?

Lots of different reasons have been suggested to explain why people with a learning disability are more vulnerable to mental health problems. These include the fact that people with a learning disability are more likely to experience deprivation, poverty and other adverse life events earlier on in life, an increased risk of social exclusion and loneliness and other people’s negative attitudes towards people with a learning disability.

Do we always know if someone with a learning disability has a mental health problem?

A major barrier to diagnosing mental health problems in people with a learning disability is that symptoms shown by someone with a learning disability might be seen as behaviour related to their learning disability instead of the real problem - the mental health problem. 

Another reason is that mental health and learning disability services are often separate, and do not always work together. This means that assessment measures to detect mental health problems in people with a learning disability are not always well developed.

If you think you or someone you care about is experiencing a mental health problem and would like to talk to someone about it, don't hesitate to call our helpline: 0808 808 1111

We're happy to help answer your questions or signpost you to places that can provide the right support.

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