Supporting the Mental Health of People with Intellectual Disabilities
When you think about your day-to-day life, going to work, participating in a hobby or spending time with friends or family may come to mind. While this may seem routine for some, it’s not commonplace for others. People with intellectual disabilities can experience many barriers when it comes to simply living their lives and their mental health can be significantly impacted as a result.
An intellectual disability is a cognitive disability that affects the knowledge and/or skills needed for independent living and social functioning. People with intellectual disabilities can experience mental health issues because of the common barriers that can accompany their disability such as difficulty communicating and fewer opportunities for socializing. For some, higher levels of loneliness can be more common due to lack of community inclusion.
Helen Blackburn, Vice President of Clinical Services at Centerstone notes that as we get older, “we become less socially active, and have fewer people surrounding us which can cause us to feel lonely.” People with intellectual disabilities, however, can experience loneliness over the course of their entire lives.
Some intellectual disabilities can result in people being nonverbal, so they must find other ways to express what they’re feeling. These communication barriers can create strain in their social life, and may cause them to feel ostracized if there is a negative response to their method of communication.
What we may sometimes fail to understand is that people with intellectual disabilities feel love, happiness, depression, and anxiety like anyone else. When supporting them, it’s as easy as meeting them where they are. If there are changes in sleeping or eating habits, or more aggressive behavior, it may be time to check in on their mental health. Consider the following as you support their well-being:
- Remember to use methods of communication that work for them. Consider using visual aids to communicate if they are nonverbal, or simply don’t prefer to talk.
- Acknowledge their feelings and do not assume that changes in behavior or mental illness symptoms are part of their disability.
- Allow them to make choices for themselves and remain as independent as possible. Mental health concerns may arise due to frustration surrounding lack of independence.
- Learn more about their interests and encourage them to get involved and try new things! The best remedy for loneliness is social interaction. Consider community groups or volunteer opportunities in your area. A part-time job is also a great way to become more engaged, create purpose, and find new friends.
People with intellectual disabilities may approach life differently, but we can all support each other in leading productive, joyful lives. If you know someone who is experiencing loneliness or depression, Centerstone can help. Learn more by visiting our counseling services page, or call us 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123).