Is a Learning Disability Considered a Mental Illness?

Larry B. Silver

Larry B. Silver, MD

Question:

If someone has a learning disability can it be considered a mental illness? We have a wonderful club in our city for those who suffer from mental illness. I have a friend who has a learning disability. I am curious if he can use their services.

Answer:

No, a Learning Disability is not a mental illness. Learning Disabilities are neurologically-based. They result from “faulty wiring” in specific areas of the brain. These disabilities will impact on an individual’s ability to process and to use information and, thus, can impact on this individual’s ability to be successful with reading, writing, math, and other learning tasks.

For more information on learning disabilities:

New to LD
Related Disorders of a Learning Disability

Larry B. Silver, M.D.
Dr. Silver, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, recently retired from private practice. He is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He has more than 150 research, public policy, and clinical publications, including his popular book for parents, The Misunderstood Child, now in its fourth edition. Silver has been active in LDA since 1969 and served as LDA President from 2000-2002. He currently co-chairs the LDA Professional Advisory Board.

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Comments

  1. RJ Brown says:

    I’m now in my early forties, and for the last ten years or so of my life, everyone around me – employers and such like – have been trying to diagnose me with something. So far they haven’t succeeded, but they’ve tried to put every possible label on me and it’s taken years for me to rebuild my self-esteem. I’m well educated to Masters degree level but struggle with undertaking certain fairly mundane tasks such as sorting information. I can do it, but slowly, because my brain takes more time to process it than other people do. I also have problems with my short term memory which I’ve been having to manage since childhood. I’m a critical thinker, quite a natural leader and in many ways almost a “high flyer”, but the way people perceive me and their bias has got in the way of me making any progress. I’m currently working in a bottom level customer service role where, ironically, I have to regularly use those skills I find hardest to use, but because of my employers’ biases I haven’t been promoted. Assumptions are made about what I’m capable of but they are generally wrong and I consequently feel frustrated a lot of the time. I’m often in a position where I grasp things before others do, but I seldom have the opportunity of communicating this because people generally don’t listen to me. I’m doubtful that a diagnosis would help me, as I can see that it could quite easily be the wrong one, but I’m pretty sure something in my brain is not functioning correctly.

    • LDA of America says:

      That must be frustrating for you! But if you believe your brain is functioning differently than most others, an evaluation may help you find some answers to your questions about what’s different and why. Psychologists and psychiatrists use valid evaluation tools that should be able to help you pinpoint your areas of strengths and challenges, but those evaluations are not cheap. However, your health insurance may be able to cover those costs. It might be worth checking out if you feel certain that your ability to work and achieve promotions would be more successful with access to job accommodations. If you do decide to have an evaluation completed, you may want to subsequently contact the Job Accommodation Network at http://www.askjan.org. They are a free online and/or phone service that provides free job accommodation consultations with disability experts to help you determine what kinds of accommodations might help you the most depending on your specific disability and individual strengths/challenges. There is more information about the evaluation process at http://oldldaamerica.org/adult-learning-disability-assessment-process/.

  2. Christopher Wallace says:

    Hi, I am a mental health student nurse in my final year. I am about to start a placement dealing with people that have learning disabilities. On this placement I have to do a guided study essay relating research on a mental health topic. Could you give guidance to relevant research with the given service user population.

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