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Explain why it is important to understand that the causes and support needs are different for people with mental health conditions, dementia and learning disabilities.

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It is important to understand the causes of conditions such as mental illness, dementia and learning disabilities and how an individual’s care and support may be influenced by them.

Mental health conditions


Psychosis is when an individual is detached from reality due to hallucinations and/or delusions. It can be caused by genetic factors, a chemical imbalance in the brain or a traumatic event. It can usually be managed successfully with medication.

Although an individual’s beliefs may differ from reality, it is important to understand that their experiences are very real to them so you should support them by being positive, compassionate and non-judgmental. They may be very frightened, so it is useful to explain to them that you are there to support them and keep them safe.


There is no single cause for depression. It can develop from a traumatic event, alcohol and drugs, loneliness, bereavement or from increased susceptibility due to personality or genetics. It can be treated with medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling and lifestyle changes.

An individual that is suffering from depression may be constantly sad and tearful and struggle to get motivated to do anything. It is important that you support them positively by encouraging them to do as much for themselves as possible to increase their independence and overall wellbeing. Promoting their self-esteem and self-worth using compassion and praise can support them to feel better about themselves.


Like depression, anxiety can be triggered for many reasons. It could be that an individual has a predisposition towards anxiety due to their personality or genetic history or it can be brought on by traumatic or stressful events, drugs, alcohol, other illnesses or their current circumstances. It can be treated with medication or therapy.

Individuals with anxiety may feel constantly worried or fearful so it is important to provide them with reassurance and support. You may need to discourage their use of drugs and/or alcohol and promote a healthy lifestyle including getting enough sleep.


Dementia can be caused by several factors including brain deterioration over time, brain damage and lack of oxygen to the brain. There is currently no cure so individuals with dementia will deteriorate over time.

This means that an individual’s independence will decrease over time and they will require more support. It is useful to plan with an individual how they would like to be cared for when they no longer have the capacity to do things for themselves, through Advance Care Planning.

Learning disability

Learning disabilities are caused by damage to the brain before or during birth or in early childhood. This can reduce their independence and capacity to make decisions to varying degrees.

Individuals with learning disabilities may require extra time and support to communicate and make decisions – you should always assume that an individual with learning disabilities has the capacity to make their own decisions. They may have behaviours that challenge, which are usually caused by some underlying need not being met so it is important to work with them to ensure their needs are being met and communicate with them in a way that they are comfortable with.

Why support needs will be different

Although these conditions may manifest with similar symptoms and behaviours, it is important to understand that each individual’s care and support requirements will be different so you should always take a person-centred approach.

For example, imagine you are working with an individual that you observe shouting and swearing in the garden.

If they have dementia, the reason for this behaviour may be that they have become angry, scared and frustrated because they are lost and do not know their way back into their home. Comforting them and gently guiding them back inside may be the best solution.

However, if the individual has a learning disability, their behaviour may be caused by something altogether different and they are unable to express this using regular communication. Maybe they have a painful toothache or they have lost one of their possessions or they want something to eat. In this case, helping to calm the individual and identifying the root cause of the problem using communication methods they are comfortable with may be the best approach. You may begin by asking them to sit down with you to discuss what is wrong and that you will work with them to resolve it.

Or, if the individual has psychosis, such as paranoid schizophrenia they may be shouting and swearing at the aeroplanes overhead because they believe they are spying on them. Or they may be seeing a hallucination that they want to go away. The support you may provide in this case could be to tell the individual that you are there to support them and keep them safe or converse with them about what they are seeing.

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