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Mental Health and Individuals with Learning Disabilities

Since 1949, May has been the designated month for Mental Health Awareness. Each year, ACCESS joins other organizations such as Learning Disabilities of America (LDA) in the movement to help fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for individuals with learning disabilities who also struggle with mental health issues.

We know that learning disabled children are at risk for behavioral and emotional problems. These students have a greater chance of developing an anxiety disorder and are generally more anxious than their typical peers. Further research has found that children with mathematic and spelling difficulties are even more inclined to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Additionally, adolescents with significant reading problems are at higher risk for behavioral and emotional problems. Studies found that students with learning disabilities expressed more loneliness, experience more victimization, and are less social than their non-learning disabled peers. In fact, more than 50% of individuals with learning disabilities ARE concurrently diagnosed with a mental health disorder!

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 96% of students with learning disabilities are falling behind their classmates without disabilities. Research indicates that academic failure often leads to impairments in psychosocial functioning. Individuals with Specific Learning Disabilities often have perceptual and processing deficits which results in feeling overwhelmed by the environment and misinterpreting verbal and nonverbal cues (facial expressions and body language). This manifests as awkward interactions and poor social skills which then results in a lack of social connectedness, alienation, and feeling isolated and alone. Subsequent anxiety and self-esteem issues tend to arise, and these individuals often have difficulty trusting others. As a result, anxiety and depression are commonly diagnosed.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have experienced significantly more stress at home with the disruption in routine, change in learning platforms, economic hardship, and the illness and death of friends and family members. Over the past year, we have witnessed the profound impact this pandemic has had on the mental health of people of all ages. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), researchers found an increase of 36.4-41.5% in adults with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Worst yet, numbers show an approximate increase of 10% in individuals not receiving care for their mental health needs! Therefore, it is paramount that we end the stigma around mental health issues and encourage individuals and families to seek help.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself and your children about mental health. Knowing the facts can help you teach others and eliminate stigmatizing stereotypes. Learn warning signs and symptoms. Each mental health condition has its own symptoms, but some common signs include:
    • Excessive worrying or fear;
    • Feeling excessively sad or low;
    • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning;
    • Changes in school performance;
    • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria;
    • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger;
    • Frequent temper tantrums in young children;
    • Avoiding friends and social activities;
    • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people;
    • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy;
    • Frequent nightmares;
    • Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite;
    • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs;
    • Thinking about suicide; and
    • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress.
  • Share real-life examples of people with a mental health disorder. Living with a mental health condition can be difficult. The tendency to isolate and self-blame that is exacerbated by this stigma can be an obstacle in getting the needed support and help. It is imperative that individuals struggling with mental health problems know that they are NOT alone. Sharing stories not only provides support and encouragement, but also helps foster empathy and understanding.
  • Take action! Far too many people do not have access to mental health care. We have the power to affect change and improve the mental health status of our nation. Reach out to policymakers for better legislation and policies addressing mental health care. Advocate for prevention and early intervention.

We see a ripple effect with academic difficulties and emotional and behavioral problems. When support or attention is denied or delayed, the consequences are set in motion and can be detrimental. If we do not intercept and provide early and effective individualized intervention, these individuals are at risk of being misdiagnosed or going undiagnosed. The take away here is early intervention is key!

If you know of a child or adolescent in need of a metal health evaluation or services, ACCESS can help. Our evaluators and Licensed Clinical Social Workers, specialize in mental health diagnoses and counseling for youth, including those with and without learning disabilities. To learn more, visit or call 501.217.8600.