World Mental Health Day
Tuesday 10 October 2023
"Anxiety disorders were reported to be three to four times more common in dyslexia than in same-age peers independent of year group or sex"
Today is World Mental Health Day, an opportunity for our charity to raise awareness about the impact that dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties can have on mental health.
Research shows that learners with dyslexia and allied reading difficulties are at higher risk for the development of stress, anxiety and depression. Mental health challenges can follow people through their whole lives, from school well into adulthood. We hear many of these stories, sadly, on our national Helpline. The British Dyslexia Associations seeks to break this cycle by ensuring that learners have their needs identified early and can access the support they need early, in education, and also later, in employment and in society at large.
As a result of dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties, our community may experience:
- Poor self-esteem
- Social comparison with peers / feeling different to others
- Social exclusion
These can lead to anxiety and depression, and can also make it harder to learn, increasing an individual’s challenges and difficulties.
Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address risks and threats in our lives and it can be beneficial, helping us to avoid danger or to achieve tasks. However, stress can shut down the cognitive processing function and make it even harder to learn. For learners with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties, failure to ‘succeed’ can lead to a cycle of acute stress which further impairs learning.
Failing to ‘succeed’
When a learner is struggling to ‘succeed’ with reading, not only may they develop poor self-esteem but they may develop an aversion to reading, be less motivated to practice or develop an expectation of failure. They may experience poor academic performance, which may increase the likelihood that they disengage from learning, may more frequently be absent, may be truant or may change schools. These all lead to elevated levels of stress and a higher risk for depressive disorders and anxiety.
In addition, conditions such as depression are known to cause reduced attention and memory in young people. Working memory is a known challenge for individuals with dyslexia, but when mental health issues exacerbate this further, this can make particular tasks even more difficult.
We are calling for:
- The early identification of dyslexia and specific learning difficulties
- Appropriate teacher training, so that every teacher can adapt their teaching to suit the individual needs of the learner
- Access to specialist teachers, for learners who need specialist support regardless of their age
- Recognition of the social costs of failing to provide sufficient support for individuals with dyslexia – including its contribution to the mental health crisis
- Further research – we need a better understanding of the long-term relationship between dyslexia and mental health
- Deighton G, Gilleard A, Cortina M, Woodman J. Dyslexia and allied reading difficulties and their relationship with mental health problems: A rapid review of evidence NIHR, Policy Research Unit Children and Families, 2020 May
- Zerbes G, Kausche FM, Müller JC, Wiedemann K, Schwabe L. Glucocorticoids, Noradrenergic Arousal, and the Control of Memory Retrieval. J Cogn Neurosci. 2019 Feb;31(2):288-298. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01355. Epub 2018 Nov 8. PMID: 30407136.
- Nicolson, RI. Stress, Shame and SEND: the need for 360 Degree Assessment in the classroom. PATOSS Bulletin, 32, 2 Winter 2019