Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses-3: Down Syndrome

Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses-3: Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome is not rare in the United States, with approximately 400,000 people living with it currently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 6,000 babies are born with down syndrome every year.

Children suffering from down syndrome face problems due to improper development of the brain and physical features. The pace of development of both is slow as compared to children without the condition. This results in weak and floppy muscles (hypotenia) due to which these babies take time to learn to sit up, crawl and to walk.

Even though it is a chromosomal disease, the majority of the people wrongly perceive it to be a mental disorder. Mental disorders are usually considered a taboo in society, and so people neglect seeking treatment for them. However, down syndrome is a developmental problem which is wrongly perceived to be a mental disorder. The series “Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses,” talks about such commonly found conditions such as autism, insomnia etc., that are wrongly considered to be mental disorders.

Real cause of down syndrome

Down syndrome is a chromosomal disease that occurs when the baby inside the mother’s womb receives an extra number of chromosomes instead of the usual 23. In ideal conditions, when a baby is conceived, it has a total of 46 chromosomes, 23 each from the mother’s egg cell and father’s sperm cell. However, in several cases, one chromosome from either of the parents is not able to detach and as a result, the conceiving egg ends up having 47 chromosomes. This further creates problems during fertilization where the cells divide rapidly and systematically while the extra chromosome divides abnormally, creating a line of cells with an extra chromosome 21.

Although it is possible to estimate the likelihood of carrying a baby with down syndrome through screening in pregnancy, it is not possible to identify if the child will have the symptoms of the syndrome. Such children though of a normal size, report slow development in later stages. They have flat facial features, small head and ears, short neck, bulging tongue, upward slanting eyes, oddly shaped ears and poor muscle tone.

Mental health concern in down syndrome

It is important to note that while down syndrome is not a mental illness, the person suffering from the condition can suffer from mental disorders. Studies have suggested that mental instability is common in people with down syndrome. Owing to the slow mental development, such people often have poor judgment, short attention span and slow learning capabilities, which together result in an impulsive behavior.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), mental health concerns are usual in at least half of the population suffering from the down syndrome. Mental disorders such as general anxiety, repetitive and obsessive-compulsive behaviors; oppositional, impulsive and inattentive behaviors, sleep-related difficulties, depression, autism spectrum conditions and neuropsychological problems characterized by progressive loss of cognitive skills are common in them.

The development of a mental disorder in such people depends upon the age and development stage of the patient. For instance, since children of young age with down syndrome often face limitations of language and communication skills, they are vulnerable to developing mental conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), mood related issues or develop sleep disorders. However, older school-age children and adolescents are more likely to develop general anxiety, depression, or regression with loss of cognitive and social skills.

Road to recovery

Many experts believe down syndrome to be a prime cause of intellectual disability in patients. Unfortunately, there is no cure for it as of now. However, it is important to seek medical help to identify any mental condition in such patients, since treating the condition would ensure a better quality of life for them.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health problem, the California Mental Health Helpline can help find the best mental health facilities in California. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to seek information about mental health treatment centers in California.

For remaining part of the series, “Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses,” visit:

Part-1: Autism

Part-2: Insomnia