Have you ever thought about the mental health concerns of people with down syndrome? Perhaps not. However, I truly believe that it is important to think about the unique mental health issues faced by some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, including people with disabilities. Not to say that people with Down syndrome are not strong or kickass individuals. But it’s no secret that they face a lot of hurdles, including infantalization by people without the disorder. In honour of tomorrow, which is World Down Syndrome Day, I thought I would share some information to enlighten you about the personal experiences of people with Down syndrome.
1. The way that people with Down syndrome are impacted by mental health issues are different depending on the age and developmental characteristics of the individual.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, a young child with Down syndrome who is limited in their language and communication skills may be more likely to experience hyperactivity and disruptive behaviours. They may also engage in more anxious and ruminative behaviours, thus leading to potential diagnoses of generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder later on. Older adults with Down syndrome, while also being susceptible to these behaviours, may also face mental health concerns such as depression and dementia. People with Down syndrome are three to five times more likely to get Alzheimer’s than the general population.
Here is a video of an expert who delivers a lecture to families on mental health concerns of older adults with Down syndrome.
2. It is helpful to treat the mental health of the parents because it does impact the emotional development of their children with Down syndrome.
While many people with Down syndrome live full and wonderful lives, it is definitely tough for the parents when they receive the diagnosis for their child. They often worry about their children’s future and physical health and how people will treat them. Emotional responses to the diagnosis of Down syndrome can include shock, anger, inadequacy, shame, and disappointment. Medical professionals need to keep the mental health implications in mind and ensure that the parents receive proper counselling and treatment, so that the child can be born into a family that is prepared to be loving and supportive. There is so much stigma and misconceptions about people with Down syndrome and we want to ensure that their parents don’t feed into it.
Here’s a great video that I found that dispels some of the stigma around Down syndrome.
3. Just as with the general population, good mental health for a person with Down syndrome does not necessarily mean absence of a mental illness.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Therefore, there are plenty of ways that we can improve the mental health of people with Down syndrome besides treating them for mental illness symptoms. People with Down syndrome face unique stresses in life, but also can improve their mental health in similar ways to the general population. The Down’s Syndrome Association makes some good suggestions. This includes helping them develop positive self-esteem, taking care of their physical health through exercise and a balanced diet, helping the person with Down syndrome find opportunities to be independent, and keeping them stimulated through valuable recreational activities. We also need to respect people with Down syndrome for their abilities, and see them for what they can do, not what they can’t do.
Here’s a great video from The Mighty that shows personal experiences with Down syndrome.
How can you help someone with Down syndrome improve their mental health? Do you know someone with Down syndrome? What are your experiences? Are you a person with Down syndrome? I want to hear from you too! Comment below!