Student Mental Health and Well-being

Students with learning disabilities often experience repeated failure and although they work incredibly hard, the outcome may not reflect their efforts. This can lead to a lower sense of mastery and fewer opportunities to feel competent at something or to achieve success. Children and youth with LDs may feel like they’re not meeting others’ expectations; that they’re letting down their parents and teachers; and not working hard enough when they’re trying so hard. This can all lead to the experience of negative feelings, including worry, anger, frustration, and sadness. These negative emotions can contribute to a decline in mental health. 

The relationship between mental health and learning disabilities is complex. We know that learning disabilities can affect mental health. The challenges of having LDs can lead children and youth to experience social and emotional stresses, frustration, worry, and loneliness. As a result, people with LDs have higher rates of stress and mental health challenges than do individuals without LDs. [1] People with LDs are two to three times more likely to experience mental health challenges [2] and are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation [3]. 

Mental health issues can also have an impact on a student’s ability to learn. For example, students may have trouble concentrating in class because they are preoccupied with their worries; they may have trouble starting and completing their work; they may have physical complaints such as stomachaches and headaches; they may be frequently absent from school; or they may drop out of school. For students with LDs who already have learning challenges, mental health issues may pose significant obstacles in the classroom, making learning even harder.

Mental health challenges can also have an impact on a student’s social functioning. A student’s struggle to self-regulate and manage their emotions may make it harder to develop and maintain friendships at school. Under-regulation of affect (e.g., meltdowns, impulsivity, and a low tolerance for frustration) can adversely affect peer relations [4], and over-regulation of affect (e.g., anxiety, avoidance, and withdrawal) may impede initiation and social risk-taking [5]. 

Venn diagram showing the relationship between learning disabilities and mental health concerns

Figure 1: This Venn diagram demonstrates the relationship between the challenges associated with LDs and those associated with mental health problems.

To learn more about the connection between learning disabilities and mental health, click here to read LDMH: A Handbook on Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, created by the Integra Foundation, the only accredited children’s mental health agency in Canada to specialize in providing mental health services exclusively to children, youth and families with learning disabilities. 

[1] Vedi & Bernard, 2012

[2] Wilson et al., 2009

[3] Svetaz, Ireland, & Blum, 2000

[4] Gaub & Carlson, 1997

[5] Suveg, Sood, Comer, & Kendall, 2009