Mental health needs of people with intellectual disability

Mental health needs of people with intellectual disability

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Unfortunately, people with intellectual disability can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to mental health issues. It’s important for families and support workers to know the indicators of mental illness in people with intellectual disability, and to understand what to do if they notice any signs that someone might be struggling.

People with intellectual disability are two to three times more likely to have mental health issues than their peers without disability, however, people with intellectual disability can experience difficulties when trying to access mental health services, and when they do, these services might not cater to their specific needs. Even though there are extensive support options for disability services, it is rare to find a service that specifically offers mental health support for people with intellectual disability.


Reasons for this lack of support

  • Diagnostic overshadowing can be a problem, and it refers to when symptoms of mental illness are attributed to intellectual disability, rather than being seen as a separate mental health disorder.
  • The professionals who work in mental health require specific training to learn how to meet the mental health support needs of people with intellectual disability.
  • Families and support workers may have little training in how to notice indicators of mental health issues.
  • People with intellectual disability are often excluded in mental health policy.


How can mental health concerns be identified?

People with intellectual disability often present different indicators of mental health issues than their peers without disability. Some people with intellectual disability may be able to communicate what they’re feeling in a way that mental health professionals can understand. However, if this is not possible, then it is likely that their actions and feelings can be misdiagnosed.

The most common indicator that someone with intellectual disability is struggling with mental health issues is when they display behaviour that is unusual for them. Any major behavioural changes should be investigated, as the behaviour could indicate symptoms of mental ill-health.

Examples of this behaviour can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Distress
  • Withdrawal
  • Self-harm
  • Unusual sleeping patterns


Mental health support services

Providing mental health services for people with intellectual disability

When mental health professionals provide services for people with intellectual disability, there are certain things they should keep in mind:

  • Supported Decision Making:

People with intellectual disability can benefit from having a family member or friend to help with decision making processes.

  • Make adjustments:

Mental health practitioners must make adjustments to meet the needs of patients with intellectual disability, such as altering communication styles and lengthening the assessment process.

  • Recovery:

Most people with intellectual disability seek mental health support services when they’re in crisis, but it’s important to offer prevention strategies and recovery support as well.

  • Communication:

There can be communication barriers between mental health practitioners and patients with intellectual disability, so mental health professionals must work to reduce this barrier.


Seeking and accessing mental health assistance

If you’re a friend or family member of someone with an intellectual disability, and you notice a change in their behaviour, then the best thing you can do for them is listen, and encourage them to seek help. Some channels that you may wish to explore include the person with disability’s GP, psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor.



How Activ can support you

If you have an intellectual disability, Activ can support you to take control of your independence, whatever that may mean to you. Our support staff are dedicated to supporting you to achieve your goals and can connect you to a range of services to promote your wellbeing.

Get in touch with our friendly team today to find out more!