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News & Blog » The Differences between Mental Health Illnesses and Learning Disabilities

The Differences between Mental Health Illnesses and Learning Disabilities

Published on 10th Aug 2016
Encompass Blog and Updates

Mental health illnesses and learning disabilities are two types of conditions which can have profound effects on a person’s life; however, there are some distinct differences between the two.

Learning Disabilities

People living with a learning disability experience a decline in their ability to complete specific tasks.

These can include anything from reading and writing to social interactions and money management.

As a result, both children and adults living with disabilities such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can take longer than their peers to perform certain activities and learn new information.

Learning disabilities may require the integration of specific educational practices or support services in order to facilitate the person’s learning abilities; however, some may be less dependent on others.

Unlike mental health illnesses, it is uncommon for medication and therapies to be able to alleviate the effects of learning disabilities, however, one-to-one tuition or help from a dedicated support worker can provide effective, practical assistance.

Fortunately, diagnosis of a learning disability is not synonymous with losing your independence as many people are able to live fulfilling lives with only minor compromises being made.

Furthermore, these conditions do not dictate a person’s intelligence.

Many people living with dyscalculia (a disability which affects a person’s mathematical ability) may be excellent with creative tasks such as reading, writing and drawing but simply find numerical calculations challenging.

There are many factors which may increase a person’s probability of developing a learning disability including family history, brain injury and even undergoing treatment for other diseases such radiotherapy.

Finally, a learning disability is generally considered to be a condition which affects a person’s learning capacity for the entirety of their life, meaning cures are not available in the majority of cases.

Mental Health Illnesses

Conversely, mental health illnesses manifest themselves through a variety of psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and dissociative experiences.

These symptoms do not directly affect a person’s ability to perform specific tasks; however, they can often be detrimental to other areas of life such as social interaction, motivation and general mood.

For instance, people living with severe anxiety disorders can encounter difficulties with conversation or even walking through crowded spaces.

Additionally, mental health illnesses can be experienced in both transient and permanent forms with varying severity.

Many people experience depression for only short periods of time as a result of environmental factors such as the breakdown of a relationship, stress and trauma.

In more serious cases however, this illness can develop into a more severe, long term condition which may require the introduction of specific forms of treatment.

People who are severely affected may need to take extended time off from work to recover, undergo talking therapies or even be prescribed medication such as antidepressants.

Despite being labelled as ‘mental’ health illnesses, many of these conditions can cause damaging effects on a person’s physical health too.

For instance, those suffering from anxiety can experience muscle tension and, in extreme cases, even heart palpitations and panic attacks.

Despite having many differences, these two conditions are not mutually exclusive as people living with a learning disability are between 30-40% likely to develop a mental health illness.

If you or someone you know is affected by a mental health illness or learning disability, it is important to visit your doctor to obtain the best advice possible and, where necessary, seek support from a qualified professional.

Encompass is a registered charity which provides a range of person-centred care services designed to improve the lives of people living with an enduring mental health illness or learning disability.