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Mental health is the next big casualty of the covid, especially if you have a learning disability

The covid-19 pandemic has amplified the everyday discrimination experienced by people with a learning disability. Coping with the pandemic is challenging for all of us, but this is particularly true for people with a learning disability, who may not understand why certain changes are happening, and who may have even less choice and control over their lives than usual. Loss of contact with family and friends, day services, respite, voluntary roles or employment, and grief is affecting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of this group of people. We don’t yet know the full impact of lockdown on people’s mental health, but we do know that people with learning disabilities are suffering greater trauma as a result.

We have first-hand experience of this in our supported-living projects, where we provide a home for adults with a learning disability, and in our community work. Our clients, many of whom have autism, in addition to a learning disability, have great difficulty coping with any type of change, let alone the cataclysm one brought about by covid-19. People with autism are especially vulnerable to developing heightened anxiety and mental health issues because of lockdown.

Many of our clients will not have understood fully what is happening in the outside world with the covid crisis, but they are experiencing the stark impact it is having on their everyday lives and the disruption to familiar patterns and routines. These familiar daily routines are extremely important, especially for our clients with autism. Any interruptions to these routines can set off anxiety and create high levels of stress, which in turn negatively impacts upon their mental health. Lockdown has made managing anxiety amongst our clients and maintaining routines, even more of a challenge.

As lockdown has continued, we have helped our clients to set up new routines, which have gone some way to managing their anxieties. However, the stress of not seeing family and friends, or interacting with others outside of the home, is not easily resolved with Zoom calls and solitary walks in the park. The stress of navigating the abnormal circumstances we have been living through over the past year remains at a huge challenge for our clients and the staff who care for them.

We are extremely concerned about how the pandemic is damaging our clients’ mental health and the long-term effects of this on their general health and wellbeing. As we look forward to the continuing roll-out of the vaccine and to emerging into a ‘new normal’, we need to pay even greater attention to how we can support people with learning disabilities. We must ensure they are not left behind as the rest of the population eases out of lockdown.


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