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February 2009 – The Mental Health of Canadians With Self-Reported Learning Disabilities

Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 42, No. 1, 24-40 (2009)

Co-Principal Investigators Dr. Alexander M. Wilson, Director of the Meighen Centre at Mount Allison University, in New Brunswick and Adele Furrie, an Ottawa-based consultant in disability statistics and joined by researchers Dr. Elizabeth Walcot-Gayda, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and Dr. Catherine Deri Armstrong, Department of Economics of the University of Ottawa. As part of the groundbreaking applied research study ā€˜Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilitiesā€™ (PACFOLD) released in March 2007, the team also examined rates of mental health problems among persons with learning disabilities (PWOD) aged 15 to 44 years using a large, nationally representative data set.


There has been growing concern as to the mental health status of PWLD. PWLD were more than twice as likely to report high levels of distress, depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, visits to mental health professionals, and poorer overall mental health than were persons without disabilities (PWOD). Multi variate regression analyses determined that these significantly higher rates of mental health problems remained for all six measures after controlling for confounding factors including income, education, social support, and physical health. Differences found in the older adult sample (ages 30ā€”44) were even larger than in the adolescent sample (ages 15ā€”21) for suicidal thoughts, depression, and distress. Males with learning disabilities were more likely to report depressive episodes, anxiety disorders, and consultations with health professionals,whereas females with learning disabilities were more likely to report high distress, suicidal thoughts, and poor general mental health relative to PWOD. On balance, learning disabilities were not found to be more detrimental to mental health for one gender or the other.