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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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7 Isolation, loneliness and ill health

Isolation and loneliness have been identified as particularly acute for people with learning disabilities. Reports, such as those undertaken by Mencap (no date), have consistently said that many people with learning disabilities have few friends or close relationships, and often rely on family or paid staff for companionship. This can affect people’s health and wellbeing.

Ironically, some of the changes made to support independence and choice have made loneliness more acute. Closing the sorts of day centres which Bernie Lee attended for much of her adult life in favour of people joining in mainstream social activities can mean that people do not have regular companionship. Living on your own, with support, is great, but the trade-off can be loneliness. This is what one tenant said to a researcher:

I do get lonely. I don’t want anyone else in the house because it would be another resident and then I’d have to have the staff for them and it wouldn’t be a home and I don’t want that.

(Source: unpublished research project conducted by author, 2011)

Now listen to Cian, who you first met earlier in the course, talk about the impact loneliness, and having nothing to do, had on his health when he was younger.

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Did you notice what Cian said about his mental health? That people thought it was just part of his autism. This is known as ‘diagnostic overshadowing’, an assumption that a health problem is caused by the learning disability – when in fact it is nothing to do with it.