Dyslexia and Mental Health

Dyslexia is not simply a literacy issue, and it’s certainly not just an education issue. Research from the University of Toronto in Canada showed that adults with learning difficulties such as dyslexia have a 46% higher chance of attempting suicide than those without such difficulties – even after adjusting statistics for other factors such as underlying, unrelated mental health problems. Professor Schulte-Körne of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich reported that 40% to 60% of dyslexic children demonstrate negative psychological manifestations, including anxiety and depression.

But mental health problems can accompany dyslexia, for many reasons. It could be the failure often experienced at school, or the difficulties in holding down a job (45% of people with dyslexia are reported as unemployed). The psychologist Dr Gershen Kaufman, who studies “shame”, reports that people who have difficulties learning to read suffer the same levels of shame as people who have engaged in incest. Shame leads to isolation and exclusion; and neuroscience shows that the pain caused by social exclusion registers in the brain in the same way as physical pain. Societal pressure on dyslexics is enormous, then, and further academic research showed that half the dyslexic subjects in one respected study had contemplated suicide, owing to the strong link between mental health and suicide on the one hand, and dyslexia and mental health on the other.

The American Association of Suicidology then presented preliminary research to show that teenagers with dyslexia are roughly four times more likely than non-dyslexic teens to seriously contemplate suicide. The study found that 19% of students who were poor readers had a history of either suicidal thoughts or attempts compared with just 5% of non-dyslexic students. Researchers also found that kids with reading problems were 10 percent more likely than those without reading problems to drop out of school (in fact, 35% of all dyslexics drop out of high school), and that suicidal thoughts were strongly related to dropout rates. Finally, it was noted that suicide was the third leading cause of death in 1999 for those aged 15 to 24, according to America’s National Institute of Mental Health.

This is not an isolated study. In 2006, Dr Stephanie Sergent Daniel conducted similar research that showed poor readers to be three times more likely than typical readers to consider or attempt suicide, and six times more likely to drop out of school. The figures, while not showing exactly the same results, certainly seem to back each other up. According to The Dyslexia Institute’s European Dyslexia Charter, 2018, 40% to 60% of dyslexic children in Germany have psychological manifestations, including anxiety and depression.

A shocking 50% of adolescents involved in drug and alcohol rehabilitation have dyslexia. And perhaps most powerfully of all, a fifteen year study of people with dyslexia found that 85% had attempted some form of self-harm, of which 42% had attempted suicide, owing to:

◼️ Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
◼️ Depression
◼️ Hopelessness and / or pessimism
◼️ Guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
◼️ Irritability, restlessness
◼️ Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
◼️ Fatigue
◼️ Excessive sleeping
◼️ Difficulty concentrating, remembering details
◼️ Overeating or loss of appetite
◼️ Aches, pains, headaches, digestive problems that endure despite treatment

Those involved in the study reported feeling:

◼️ Different
◼️ Abnormal
◼️ Misunderstood
◼️ Alienated
◼️ Inferior
◼️ Isolated

We can see that dyslexia isn’t just an issue of education, it’s a societal issue, and without a change in society’s attitude towards dyslexia, we are at risk of an ever-increasing epidemic of mental health problems, self-harm, and even suicide.

We’ve got an epidemic of suicide on our hands…

Sources include:
>> esc4.net/Assets/kempf-emotional-impact-of-dyslexia.pdf