Beyond the Extra Chromosome: Understanding the Mental Health Challenges of Down Syndrome

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Individuals with Down syndrome typically experience cognitive and developmental delays, as well as a range of physical health issues. Despite the prevalence of mental health conditions in this population, there is a lack of understanding and resources available to address these issues. This short article explores the relationship between Down syndrome and mental health, examining the challenges faced by this population and highlighting the need for increased awareness and support.

“Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are small “packages” of genes in the body. They determine how a baby’s body forms and functions as it grows during pregnancy and after birth. Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21 [1] .”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC [2] ), some common physical features of Down syndrome include:

  • A flattened face, especially the bridge of the nose
  • Almond-shaped eyes that slant up
  • A short neck
  • Small ears
  • A tongue that ends to stick out of the mouth
  • Tiny white spots on the iris (colored part) of the eye
  • Small hands and feet
  • A single line across the palm of the hand (palmar crease)
  • Small pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb
  • Poor muscle tone or loose joints
  • Shorter in height as children and adults

The same source [3]  affirms, “Approximately one in every 772 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common chromosomal condition. About 5100 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year”.

“More and more Americans are interacting with individuals with Down syndrome, increasing the need for widespread public education and acceptance [4] ”. That is why we must ask ourselves as a society, how is the mental health of this population? According to the National Down Syndrome Society [5],“the most common mental health concerns in individuals with Down syndrome include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, oppositional behaviors, depression, and tic disorder.”

Down Syndrome Resource Foundation [6]  affirm, “Mental health issues affect people with Down syndrome across their lifespan. Children may develop attention deficit disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or certain types of anxiety (e.g., separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, or selective mutism). Adolescents and adults may develop these, along with other types of anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety) or depression. People with Down syndrome are most prone to developing mental health problems during major life transitions, such as entering or leaving high schools.  

In the document “Aging and Down Syndrome” written by the National Down Syndrome Society [7] , we can read some important points about mental wellbeing in this population:

  1. People with Down syndrome can have psychiatric illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) just like anyone else.
  2. Monitor closely when there is a significant change in mood or behavior and seek attention from a primary care doctor or mental health specialist if features persist or interfere with day-to-day life.
  3. Do not overlook other new medical or physical issues that may be contributing to these changes.
  4. Pay attention to any other situational changes that may also trigger or exacerbate sadness, anxiety, etc.

How we can cope with the mental health of the Down syndrome population? “Enhance self-determination by acting with instead of for adults with Down syndrome, which may include allowing them the opportunity to make -and learn from- minor mistakes; include adults with Down syndrome in conversations about their future; utilize tools that shift responsibility to them as much as possible, like cellphone reminders, visual cues, wall calendars, and daily to-do list; incorporate peer supports and mentors. No one likes to be told what to do by parents all the time [8] .”

In conclusion, it is clear that mental health is an important issue for individuals with Down syndrome. Despite the many challenges they face, these individuals have a right to access high quality mental health care and support. By raising awareness of the mental health challenges experienced by this population, we can work towards developing more inclusive and affective approaches to care. We can help to promote greater understanding, acceptance, and inclusion for this population in our society.










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