False Images: A Case of Down Syndrome and Mental Illness


Small chin. Slanted eyes. A tender and pleasant smile. When you type “down syndrome (DS)” into any search engine, these are the first images you see. You find yourself engrossed in photos of jovial men, women, and children. These images etch the impression that those with down syndrome are carefree, innocent, and cheerful into our minds. Very few photos will portray any negative emotions such as anger, sadness, or guilt. Some may even be surprised to found out these cheerful faces plastered in photos, may have mental illnesses.

The National Down Syndrome Society reports that approximately half of those who possess DS face a mental health issue throughout their lifetime. The most common issues include general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep related difficulties, and depression, among many others. People with down syndrome who possess severe limitations in terms of language and communication skills may find it difficult to articulate their feelings. This increases the difficulty of diagnosing and identifying mental illness in those with DS.

A metacognitive study analysing over 390 articles concerning depression and down syndrome states several risk factors that are associated with those born with DS. A study of the general population has shown that a small total brain volume are more likely to develop depression. The same results were found with those who have lower IQ scores (Walker et. al,  2011).

Diane Levine has a son named Cooper, who has down syndrome has always had the illness define who he is. During a conversation with friends discussing their children, one of them will say something along the lines of,  “My neighbor has a little Down’s boy. They’re such angels, aren’t they?” or I love children with Down Syndrome. They’re like gentle lambs (Levine, 2017).” The picture of people with DS being gentle and delightful is not always the case. People with DS have a range of personalities and emotions; just like those without DS. Levine reiterates “I don’t want Down syndrome to define him — except it does, in many ways.”

The image that we have of those who possess down syndrome is a bright and infectiously happy face. However, this falsely paints people with DS as being free of worries or problems. It is important to acknowledge that people with DS are susceptible to mental illnesses just like those without DS.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Levine, D. (2017, April 28). My Son With Down Syndrome Does Not Fit Your Stereotype. https://themighty.com/2017/04/my-son-with-down-syndrome-does-not-fit-your-stereotype/

Munir, K. (2018). Mental Health Issues & Down Syndrome. https://www.ndss.org/resources/mental-health-issues-syndrome/

Walker, J. C., Dosen, A., Buitelaar, J. K., & Janzing, J. E. (2011). Depression in Down Syndrome: A Review of the Literature. Research In Developmental Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 32(5), 1432-1440.

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