Learning disabilities, employment and mental health

21 June 2018

People with learning disabilities are at much greater risk of mental health problems than the rest of the population in the UK. It's estimated that 54% of people with learning disabilities also have a mental health problem such as depression.

The reasons for this are complex - people with learning disabilities experience a higher level of discrimination, stigma, exclusion, loneliness, bullying and hate crime.

Another of the key factors is employment. Despite most people with learning disabilities being willing and able to work, just 5.8% of them have a paid job. If we solve this, we can go a long way to improving the mental health of people with learning disabilities generally.

We know that with the right support, people with learning disabilities make hardworking and enthusiastic employees, bringing new skills, talents and perspectives to their employers. It is welcome that successive governments have shown interest in trying to improve the situation.

Raj's story

Raj, who has autism, works at the Mental Health Foundation and is a key member of the team, providing much-needed support in her role as Office Assistant. When Raj first joined us, she had a job coach who helped her settle into her new role and new office environment - an environment she's now thriving in independently.

"When I got the job, people didn't think I'd be able to work in an office," says Raj.

"It was difficult at first as I had to get used to working in a new place but with support and encouragement I'm now finding it easy."

Raj's story is a positive one, but for many people with learning disabilities, finding a job is immensely frustrating, as Raj explains:

"So many people with learning disabilities are sitting at home with nothing to and they can often become bored and depressed.

"Searching for work is frustrating. I went to lots of interviews where I didn't hear anything back. It's like going round in circles. It makes things worse when you're trying so hard and nothing happens. Lots of people get really sad and frustrated and often bottle these feelings up as it's difficult to explain to people how it feels.

"Work gives you a sense of purpose and there are loads of jobs that people with learning disabilities can do."

Why the numbers are so low

Employment rates are low and one of the main reasons is the lack of expectation that people with learning disabilities will get a job. 

Limited aspirations and the belief that they have little to offer exacerbate this lack of expectation in their employment prospects.

How we're aiming to change this

When I Grow Up (WIGU) was a four-year programme run by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (part of the Mental Health Foundation) which aimed to increase work expectations, aspirations and opportunities for students with learning disabilities.

It has a positive impact in several areas. 

  • Students are more confident during work experience placements. 
  • They then feel employment is a real option after leaving school and college
  • They feel better able to fit in, as they have a greater understanding of the workplace culture.

Evidence suggests that giving good-quality support and working with students early can lead to better employment outcomes (Greig, R. Chapman et al, 2014).

At the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, we believe that young people with learning disabilities have the right to a working life and this must be embedded early on.

Find out more about the When I Grow Up programme

For further information and support contact Christine-Koulla Burke cburke@learningdisabilities.org.uk

We need your help

To keep fighting to improve the mental health of people with learning disabilities, we need your help. Please consider a donation today.

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