Psychological and Emotional Issues

Learning Disability & Mental Ill-Health

Psychological and emotional factors are concerned with thoughts, feelings and emotional reactions. They include:

Poor self-esteem

Society tends to value certain achievements such as having a job, owning a house and having children. People with a learning disability may feel that they are not as good as others because they may have difficulty in achieving these things. They may find it difficult to cope with the stresses that arise day-to-day and to understand and solve problems. These difficulties may lead to low self-esteem.

Negative learning experiences

People with a learning disability often have a lifetime of negative learning experiences, which can increase vulnerability to mental health problems. They may have been denied valuable learning experiences because it was assumed that they would fail or that it was too risky to put them into certain situations. This is especially true for those who have previously lived in long-stay institutions. People with a learning disability may have been offered new experiences without adequate planning, so that if they experienced failure they could be less likely to try again.


People with a learning disability who suffer bereavements may not receive the support they need. They may not understand what has happened, as the concept of death is abstract and intangible. They may not get an opportunity to talk through their feelings or come to terms with the bereavement. Sometimes bereavement can lead to other significant changes such as a move to emergency residential care. It means that people not only lose a carer but also their home and routines. Routines are very important and loss of that routine can be difficult to cope with.


All people with a learning disability have the right to make their own decisions. Some may need support to make decisions. Choice is very important to an individual’s well-being. It gives them control over their lives, from making small day-to-day decisions such as what to eat, to life-changing choices such as moving home. Not being able to make choices or having choices ignored has a detrimental effect on mental health.


(Hardy, S., Kramer, R., Holt, G., Woodward, P., Chaplin, E., Janjua, A (eds.) (2010) Supporting Complex Needs: A practical guide for support staff working with people with a learning disability who have mental health needs)


The Judith Trust would like to thank Turning Point and the Estia Centre for allowing us to use this information.