Learning disability statistics: mental health problems

Between 25 and 40% of people with learning disabilities also experience from mental health problems.

All of us experience challenges around our emotional well-being at some stage in our lives, with one in four of us experiencing a problem with our mental health in any one year. Children and adults with learning disabilities and other forms of disabilities are not exempt from this.

For children and young people, 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. These young people were also 33 times more likely to be on the autistic spectrum and were much more likely than others to have emotional and conduct disorders.

Children and young people with learning disabilities are much more likely than others to live in poverty, to have few friends and to have additional long term health problems and disabilities such as epilepsy and sensory impairments. All these factors are positively associated with mental health problems:

  • People with learning disabilities demonstrate the complete spectrum of mental health problems, with higher prevalence than found in those without learning disabilities (Source: Mental Health Nursing of Adults with Learning Disabilities)
  • The prevalence of dementia is much higher amongst older adults with learning disabilities compared to the general population (21.6% vs 5.7% aged 65+) (Source: Cooper, 1997a)
  • People with Down's syndrome are at particularly high risk of developing dementia, with an age of onset 30-40 years younger than the general population (Source: Holland et al., 1998).
  • Prevalence rates for schizophrenia in people with learning disabilities are approximately three times greater than for the general population (3% vs 1%) (Source: Doody et al., 1998)
  • Reported prevalence rates for anxiety and depression amongst people with learning disabilities vary widely, but are generally reported to be at least as prevalent as the general population (Source: Stavrakaki, 1999), and higher amongst people with Down's syndrome (Source: Collacott et al., 1998)
  • Challenging behaviours (aggression, destruction, self-injury and others) are shown by 10%-15% of people with learning disabilities, with age-specific prevalence peaking between ages 20 and 49 (Source: Emerson et al.,2001) (Sources taken from Key Highlights of Research Evidence on the Health of People with Learning [Intellectual] Disabilities)