Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Key features of mental retardation

The term ‘mental retardation’ is being dropped by many health workers.This is because it is often used in a discriminatory way. Instead, theterm ‘learning disability’ is preferred. In this manual, we will use‘mental retardation’ because it is the most widely used and understoodterm to describe the condition of delayed mental development.Mental retardation is not a mental illness in the strict sense of theterm. This is because an illness usually refers to a health problem thatbegins and ends. Mental retardation, on the other hand, is a state,i.e. a condition that is present from very early childhood, andremains present for the rest of the person’s life. Mental retardationmeans that the brain development (and thus mental abilities) ofthe child is slower or delayed compared with that in otherchildren. People with mental retardation are often brought tohealth workers by concerned relatives for many reasons such asself-care, school difficulties and behavioural problems such asaggression.

A person with mental retardation will experience some of the following symptoms:

• delays in achieving milestones such as sitting up, walking and speaking

• difficulties in school, especially coping with studies and repeated failures

• difficulties in relating to others, especially other children of the same age

• in adolescence, inappropriate sexual behaviour

• in adulthood, problems in everyday activities such as cooking, managing money, finding and stayingon in a job, etc.

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