Mental health

This page is about disability and mental health. It shares things you can do to help your mental health and wellbeing, and where you can get support.

A woman and a young man in a wheelchair sharing a laugh in a garden.

On this page:

What is mental health?

Sense is here for you

We support people with complex disabilities of all ages.

From our free play sessions for children under eight, to our adult residential care services, we’re with disabled people and their families every step of the way.

Get in touch with our team to find out how we could support you.

Mental health is all about how you’re thinking, feeling and behaving. We all need to take care of our mental health, just like we do our physical health. 

Poor mental health can make day-to-day life more difficult and leave you feeling stressed, worried, anxious or unable to cope. This is very common: around one in four adults experiences a diagnosable mental health problem each year. 

There are lots of different problems you can have with your mental health, ranging from anxiety and depression to personality disorders. 

Some conditions have similar symptoms. Mental health issues can look different for everyone. 

Living with a mental health problem can be difficult, but there are lots of things that can help, including practising self-care and speaking to a counsellor.

Disabled people and mental health

Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to have mental health issues. This includes people with physical disabilities and developmental disabilities like autism. 

Both biological and environmental factors affect our mental health including genes, diet and life experiences. For disabled people, these factors can be heightened.

People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by isolation and loneliness, both of which impact mental health. This has been made worse by the pandemic, with almost two thirds of disabled people saying they are chronically lonely. 

Read Natalie’s story on how the effects of the pandemic are still impacting her.

Disabled people are also often more vulnerable to negative life events and experiencing stigma. They face barriers in society that can make life harder. 

These barriers can be physical, like rail stations not having lift access. Or they can be all about attitudes and communication – for example, the belief that someone with a learning disability can’t live independently.

If a mental health condition is having a long-term effect on normal life, it can be classed as a disability. This means it lasts (or is likely to last) 12 months and impacts day-to-day activities such as work or interacting with others.

The government’s website has more information about when a mental health condition becomes a disability.

Autism and mental health

Autism is not a mental health condition. But like anyone else, people with autism can have good and bad mental health.

Almost eight in ten autistic adults have experienced a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, according to a 2016 study. 

This could be because they are more likely to face discrimination and isolation. 

Autistic people can also find it harder to access mental health support, with mental health services and professionals lacking experience in autistic people’s needs. They may also be more likely to experience misdiagnosis of mental health issues.

The National Autistic Society has more guidance on mental health for autistic people.

Learning disabilities and mental health

Having a learning disability is not the same as having a mental health condition which can be treated over time. 

Over half (54%) of people with a learning disability also have a mental health issue, according to a 2007 study

This includes children with learning disabilities, who are over four times more likely to have a mental health issue than children without a learning disability.

There are many reasons for this. People with learning disabilities are often more likely to experience negative life events. They may also be biologically vulnerable to mental health issues due to their medication or ill health. 

Stigma and a lack of mental health resources for those with learning disabilities also play a role.

Mencap shares more information on learning disabilities and mental health.

Disability and mental health statistics

In 2023, we asked people with complex disabilities about their health and wellbeing, including questions about their mental health. We found that:

  • People with complex disabilities are four times as likely to say their general health is bad or very bad (25%) compared to the general public (5% according to the 2021 general census). 
  • On average, people with complex disabilities have lower happiness levels (6.02) compared to non-disabled people (7.45), according to figures from the Office for National Statistics).
  • Those with complex disabilities have higher average rates of anxiety (5.09) compared to non-disabled people (3.12).

Additional research also shows that:

  • 30% of people in the UK live with one or more long-term physical health conditions, over 26% of which also have a mental health problem.

Mental health for carers

Caring for someone with a disability is often a positive, rewarding experience. But it can also be difficult and stressful at times. 

Many carers find it hard to make time for themselves or to socialise with others. They may also worry about money, not get enough sleep and feel frustrated or angry. Each of these things can contribute to poor mental health.

That’s why it’s important that carers look after their own mental health and wellbeing, as well as their loved one’s. 

There are many ways to get support as a carer including the Carers UK helpline or local support groups. Staying organised, sharing how you feel with others and taking time for yourself can also help to reduce negative feelings.

Find more about practical and emotional support for carers.

How to help your mental health

It’s important to look after your mental health. Here are some day-to-day things you can do to help improve your mental wellbeing:

  • Find time to relax and reduce stress such as taking a bath or reading.
  • Keep active where possible – even small movements can help improve your mood.
  • Eat a balanced diet that combines healthy food with your favourite snacks.
  • Do things you enjoy such as listening to music, playing board games or cooking.
  • Spend time outdoors by taking a walk or sitting in the garden.
  • Reduce your screen time, especially at night time.
  • Look after your personal hygiene and practice self-care, like having a shower and doing a face mask.
  • Prioritise getting enough sleep and wind down before bed.
  • Avoid drugs or alcohol which can make you feel worse.

Remember it’s okay to ask for help if you are struggling. 

Speak to a loved one, or talk to your GP who can recommend further ways to look after your mental health and refer you to a therapist. 

There are also some organisations that offer free mental health support.

Mind has lots more tips on how to look after your mental wellbeing.

How to talk to your GP about mental health

If you’ve noticed a change to your mood or you’re feeling concerned about how you feel, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP. 

Discussing our emotions can be difficult, especially with someone you don’t know very well. But it’s a good first step in getting support that can help your mental health.

Here are some things that can help you get the most out of talking to your GP:

  • Be honest about how you’re feeling and what’s been happening in your life recently.
  • Avoid giving yourself a diagnosis and instead focus on describing how you feel.
  • Remember there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about – your GP is there to help you.
  • Write down how you feel including how long you’ve felt this way and any other things you want to say – take these notes with you.
  • Consider taking a family member or friend with you to the appointment or practising what to say with them beforehand.
  • When booking an appointment, ask for it to be longer if you have a few things you’d like to discuss.

Read Richard’s story about how seeking support helped him to overcome depression.

Sources of support when you’re struggling

There are charities and organisations that offer free mental health support to those in need at any time of day. Here are some examples:


If you live in England you can call an NHS mental health helpline to get 24-hour support. Welsh residents can contact NHS 111 and select option two for urgent support.


You can contact Samaritans any time, any day of the year for free. Call 116 123 or email [email protected] to get a reply within 24 hours. You can also reach out via Next Generation Text using 0330 094 5717 and visit a branch in person.


If you would prefer not to speak on the phone, text ‘Shout’ to 85258 to get free, confidential mental health support in a crisis from the Shout Crisis text service.


Get support online and information on mental health at Mind. You can also call their helpline at 0300 123 3393 from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

This content was last reviewed in March 2024. We’ll review it again next year.