Supporting mental health and wellbeing

young boy with down syndrome smiling at camera through a star shaped cookie cutter

A combination of the aftereffects of Covid-19 and drastic spikes in inflation are having a devastating impact on young disabled people across the country. On top of the shortcomings of years of underfunding in social care and disability services, families are struggling more than ever.


Research shows that people with disabilities experience mental health problems, loneliness and social isolation at much higher rates than people without disabilities. Some studies suggest the rate of mental health problems in people with a learning disability is double that of the general population. (Cooper, 2007; Emerson & Hatton, 2007; NICE, 2016).


There are many reasons why people with a learning disability are more likely to experience poor mental health:


  • Biology and genetics may increase vulnerability to mental health problems
  • A higher incidence of negative life events
  • Access to fewer resources and coping skills
  • The impact of other people’s attitudes, judgments and discrimination
  • Higher levels of social isolation and loneliness


Mental health problems among people with a learning disability are often overlooked, underdiagnosed and left untreated due to several reasons:


  • There is a gap between the provision of mental health services and learning disability services
  • Assessments to detect mental health problems in people with learning disabilities are not well developed
  • Symptoms and behaviours are often attributed to the person’s learning disability, rather than the mental health problem


Young people in particular have seen a severe impact on mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation many felt during the several lockdowns of 2020-2021. According to the Mental Health Foundation, young people are almost three times more likely to have experienced loneliness since the pandemic began, with almost half (44%) feeling this way since the first lockdown in March 2020.


Further reading: Mencap; Mental Health Foundation, Office for National Statistics

graph showing average well-being ratings for disabled and non-disabled people, UK, 2018 to 2019

Mental health and employment

Here at AFK, our mission is to enable as many young people with disabilities as possible the opportunity to work or volunteer in the community. To do that, we deliver a range of services through our Life and Work Programme where, as the name suggests, we help prepare young people for employment and for living an independent life, by building their skills and confidence, creating opportunities for new experiences, and getting them into work.


We also fund mobility equipment that help children grow stronger and more confident, allow young people to access school, college and higher education, as well as travel, work and socialise with greater independence.


We want to help create a world where all young people living with a disability get to lead the life they choose. During the pandemic, we have adjusted our service provision in order to continue delivering our existing services as well as supporting those experiencing job insecurity, furlough and job loss, heightened anxiety and stress, and restricted access to vital health and social services during this time.

The Department of Work and Pensions shows that just 25% of those with a learning disability are in work. Since 2020, AFK’s referrals to our core Life and Work team have increased dramatically, along with the complexity and diversity of need. Recently, AFK’s Job coaches have had to source lunch money from a hardship fund for our service users, if they can afford transport to make it to sessions at all.  


Our mobility team have seen applications triple, with families becoming increasingly unable to afford the bespoke equipment needed for growing children and young people with individual mobility needs. Batteries need replacing. Tyres need changing. Basic repairs need to be made which families simply cannot afford. That’s why we are here, ready to help provide essential maintenance and repairs that keep young people mobile. 

Two photos showing trainees at work; two in masks at a branch of Royal Mail, and a wheelchair user in a garden

“Anxiety has been high across the board with young people with disabilities,” said Elaine Harman, our Life and Work Manager. “Different messages from family, friends and the media have been distressing and very hard for some to cope with and understand.”


Today, with your help, we are continuing to provide important services to our young people with complex learning disabilities as well as maintaining mobility devices. Through the highs and lows of the last few years, we are reminded daily of the impact of our work both in the local community and across the UK. Work that simply couldn’t happen without your support.

Why supporting mental health is important at AFK

Work is about more than making money. It is a valuable part of life that gives us a sense of direction and purpose. Being able to earn our own money gives us independence and freedom – and to deny someone that opportunity is to deny their right to live the life they choose. This inevitably impacts mental health and wellbeing.


At AFK, we strive to consider the whole person in front of us when we meet a disabled young person and their family. We get to know their likes and dislikes, help them identify their strengths and goals for the future, and learn more about what support they have from family and friends. All of this helps us understand what their life is like, which in turn allows us to find them opportunities they are best suited to.


By supporting their mental health and wellbeing, we help disabled young people become ready for employment and greater independence in their adult life.


And by helping them find work, we support their mental health by helping them find purpose, gain financial independence and connect them to social opportunities.


Understanding the interconnectedness of disability, mental health and employment helps us support more families in meaningful and long-lasting ways.

Thank you for your support

We are doing everything we can to support our community during this challenging time – and we couldn’t do it without the ongoing support of our generous donors.


If you would like to make a donation, please click the button below. Thank you.

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