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Mental Health and Intellectual Disability (ID)

01 May 2021

Did you know that people with an intellectual disability (ID) have significantly higher rates of mental illnesses than the general population?  In fact, it is two to three times more common for people with an ID to also experience mental health conditions.

Despite the high risk of mental health issues, mental illness in this cohort has been largely unrecognised, undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and untreated, resulting in insufficient care.

Symptoms may include:

  • withdrawal
  • frequent emotional distress
  • mood swings that cannot otherwise be explained
  • altered perceptions
  • confusion
    irrational fears and anxieties
  • self-harm
  • obsessions
  • or psychosomatic symptoms that are often misinterpreted as being "attention seeking."

This kind of motive attributed to people with ID means that support workers sometimes refuse to work with them, citing “behavioural” problems or “challenging behaviours”. This may result in people with ID and a co-occurring mental health issue being under-serviced due to the difficulties of adequate service provision.

Yet people with intellectual disability have many stressors in their lives.  They are vulnerable to social exclusion and isolation, poverty, neglect, abuse and trauma, contact with the criminal justice system, drugs and alcohol use, poor physical health and physical disability. Compounded by mental ill-health this can make for an extremely diminished life.

NMHCCF Recommends

To provide holistic support, the NMHCCF sees a great need to increase the proficiency of disability, specialist mental health services, justice, general practice, aged care and other primary health services in the early identification, diagnosis, treatment and care of people with ID and a co-occurring mental health issue.

Download the full advoacy brief

Advocacy Brief - Intellectual Disability (ID) and Mental Health