The Link Between Learning Disabilities and Depression

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While nearly everyone experiences feelings of sadness and periods of "the blues," people with learning disabilities have a greater risk of developing clinical depression than the general population does. In fact, the stress of coping with a learning disability may lead to more frustration in life that can give rise to episodes of depression.

In most cases, these feelings pass with time and positive coping strategies, such as staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Occasionally, however, people with learning disabilities may have more difficulty getting through these periods.

Signs of Clinical Depression

When youth and adults with learning disabilities have feelings of sadness or a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that last for more than a few days or are very intense, it may indicate something more than the typical blues. These symptoms could be indicators of clinical depression and should be evaluated by a medical professional for appropriate treatment.

The Medical Definition of Depression

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines depression as having at least five of these symptoms on a daily basis for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed mood lasting throughout the day, and especially in the morning
  • Feelings of persistent tiredness
  • Feelings of low self-worth and excessive guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Inability to sleep or the desire to sleep too much
  • Loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy
  • Inability to relax or marked restlessness
  • Slowness in movement
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Clinical depression is a pervasive disorder that can affect many aspects of a person's overall health as well as their feelings. Some common feelings associated with depression include difficulty focusing, remembering information and making decisions. It is important to remember, however, that other conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, can involve the same symptoms as well. Moreover, learning disabilities may lead children to feel misunderstood, different or alienated from classmates. All of these feelings can foster depression.

In addition, feelings of guilt and worthlessness can occur with learning disabilities and with clinical depression alike. A medical professional has the expertise to determine if clinical depression or other conditions are a factor. The healthcare worker may also ascertain whether depression and a learning disability coexist. 

A Word From Verywell

People with learning disabilities who experience these symptoms should discuss them with their physician. A qualified medical professional can fully evaluate overall health and determine if depression could be the cause of these symptoms. School personnel, such as counselors, may also give students with learning disabilities guidance. Early intervention and healthful coping mechanisms are key. Both can prevent depression from spiraling out of control.

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Article Sources

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  1. Maag JW, Reid R. Depression among students with learning disabilities: assessing the risk. J Learn Disabil. 2006;39(1):3-10. doi:10.1177/00222194060390010201

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.