Mental Wellness

All of us struggle with mental health from time to time. Some of us may describe ourselves as “worriers,” meaning that we may become anxious about the uncertainties of life. Others are more prone to experience bouts of low mood, during which we feel unmotivated, fatigued, or sad. These same issues are common in people with Down syndrome, and in fact, they are more likely than the typically developing population to develop mental health issues that are severe enough to warrant a diagnosis such as anxiety or depression.

Mental health issues affect people with Down syndrome across their lifespan. Children may develop attention deficit disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or certain types of anxiety (e.g., separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, or selective mutism). Adolescents and adults may develop these, along with other types of anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety) or depression. People with Down syndrome are most prone to developing mental health problems during major life transitions, such as entering or leaving high school.

Even if a mental health diagnosis is not at play, parents and professionals should be aware of other issues that can negatively impact a person’s overall mental wellness. These include low self-esteem, identity issues related to having Down syndrome, and becoming overly entrenched in fantasy worlds.

Parents of children with Down syndrome should also monitor their own mental health. It is well known that parents of children with developmental disabilities experience more stress than parents of typically developing children. Over time, excess stress may be a factor in the development of anxiety or depression. In addition to stress, it is common for parents who have children with Down syndrome to experience feelings of grief, loss, and guilt.

Regardless of whether mental health issues in individuals with Down syndrome or their parents are just starting or already established, a mental health professional can help. Mental health professionals include counsellors and psychologists. When seeking out a professional to help with mental health issues, look for someone who also has experience working with people who have developmental disabilities.

DSRF Resources

The LowDOWN Podcast, Episode 3:2 – Feeling Down: Mental Health and Down Syndrome

The LowDOWN Podcast, Episode 3:11 – Fresh Perspective: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for People with Down Syndrome

Mental Health and Down Syndrome: A Q&A with Dr. Susan Fawcett

Teens in Fantasyland: When Imaginations Get Carried Away, by Dr. Susan Fawcett

3.21 Magazine: The Mental Health Issue (Winter 2022)

Other Resources

Mental Wellness in Adults with Down Syndrome: A Guide to Emotional and Behavioral Strengths and Challenges by Dennis McGuire & Brian Chicoine

Adult Down Syndrome Center