Nearly a third of people with a learning disability in the UK are struggling with mental health issues in the wake of the pandemic, according to new research from Mencap.

In a recent survey, 88% of families and carers said their loved one was always or very often felt sad, and 82% felt lonely due to rarely being able to leave their homes.

It also found that 27% of those experiencing mental health problems still don’t know where they can go for support – an issue made worse by the fact that many people in society still wrongly believe that learning disability itself is a mental health condition. 

The survey was part of a new multi-year mental health campaign called ‘Listen To Us’. Mencap asked 580 family members and carers of people with a learning disability across the UK about their loved one’s experiences of mental health. 

Over two thirds (72%) of family members and carers of people with a learning disability say their loved one currently spends less time outside of the house than before the pandemic, with more than one in 10 saying they leave the house just once a week or less. Limited access to technology, coupled with lack of confidence and digital skills, has also exacerbated people’s isolation even further. 

Of those who reported their loved one's social care provision had been cut, just under two thirds (63%) of respondents said services such as day centres had been temporarily closed, permanently closed, or reduced. 

Our life is a prison

Alongside the survey findings, the charity has also published a new report funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). People with a learning disability who were interviewed for the report described their lives as a “prison,” with limited social contact causing them to feel suicidal. 

Many people found themselves isolated and unable to engage in activities which matter to them.

Brendan Chivasa, 28, a Mencap campaigner who has cerebral palsy and a learning disability, became depressed during the pandemic and is still dealing with the repercussions.

He said: “One morning [in lockdown] when I woke up and looked in the mirror, there were tears coming down. No one could even come to my room. I cried and cried. I saw a counsellor for my mental health but after six weeks [the help] stopped. It wasn’t enough. I ask myself: do [people] care?” 

Jack Welch, Chair of Mencap’s Voices Council, which instigated the activity said: “Since introducing our paper, the work on this subject has made it clear that people with a learning disability should not be forgotten in the national conversation around mental health. There are some simple adjustments like adding mental health to annual health checks and hospital passports which can make a difference. But we also want to see more specialist mental health professionals, better support signposting and the re-instatement and preservation of vital services to protect people’s wellbeing.”