Mental Health in People With Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone. I once again didn’t have time for writing my letter M post in the #AttoZChallenge yesterday, because I was at the countrywide cerebral palsy day and then at my in-laws and was too tired once I came back to the institution to write my post. Let me for this reason write it today. For my letter M post, I am going to write about mental health as it relates to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

People with an intellectual disability are more likely to have mental health problems, including severe mental illness, than the general population. However, in the general psychiatric system, these people are not usually adequately helped. This means that early recognition of people with an intellectual disability is very important. Here in the Netherlands, some psychiatrists actually advocate for administering a simple screening tool for mild intellectual disability to each person coming into care with significant mental health issues. That way, if a person is identified as potentially having an intellectual disability, treatment can be adapted for them.

Other issues in mental health services for people with intellectual disabilities include the need for more trauma-informed care, since intellectually disabled people are at increased risk of being victims of abuse. Of course, trauma treatment, as well as therapy in general, needs to be specifically adapted to meet the intellectually disabled person’s needs. With EMDR, this is possible even with severely intellectually disabled people. Other forms of treatment, such as dialectical behavior therapy and schema-focused therapy, are, with some modifications, useful for people with mild intellectual disability.

In most countries, people with mild intellectual disability are usually seen by general psychiatric providers. However, here in the Netherlands, at least some mental health agencies have specialized teams or even an entire separate agency serving those with mild intellectual disability and co-occurring mental health issues.

Though autism as a co-occurring developmental disability with mental illness really poses some of the same challenges as does intellectual disability, this is not widely recognized. I mean, most mental health agencies here do have autism teams, but these are often dedicated to diagnosis and short-term psychoeducational support of autistic adults. There are a few specialist treatment centers for autistics with highly complex needs due to comorbid mental illness and/or severe autism, but these are inpatient units with long waiting lists. As far as I’m aware, there hardly seems to be any outreach-based, long-term treatment specifically for autistics with complex care needs.

5 thoughts on “Mental Health in People With Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities #AtoZChallenge

  1. Intellectual disability can exist with mental health issues as it does with those without a disability. It becomes more prevalent nowadays and getting a diagnosis is very important

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. It of course does depend on the autistic person’s profile of strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I am verbally more capable, in the sense that I use a lot of words I do not fully understand.


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