The purpose of this paper is to provide information for non-specialists on identifying the characteristics, assessment and support needs of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) accessing mainstream services.
A review of relevant policy and research literature is supplemented with observations from the authors’ own experience of working in mental health services for people with ID.
With change in provision of services the likelihood of mainstream staff encountering someone with ID will increase. However, information on whether a person has ID or their level of ID is not always available to professionals in acute mental health services meeting an individual for the first time. Reliance on observational and interview-based assessments can leave people with ID vulnerable to a range of over- and under-diagnosis issues. This is as a result of difficulties with communication and emotional introspection, psychosocial masking, suggestibility, confabulation and acquiescence. For people with poor communication, carers will be the primary source of information and their contribution has to be taken into account.
Knowing or suspecting an individual has ID allows staff to take into account the various assessment, diagnosis and formulation issues that complicate a valid and reliable understanding of their mental health needs. Awareness about an individual’s ID also allows professionals to be vigilant to their own biases, where issues of diagnostic overshadowing or cognitive disintegration may be important considerations. However, understanding some of the practical and conceptual issues should ensure a cautious and critical approach to diagnosing, formulating and addressing this population’s mental health needs.
This synthesis of a review of the literature and observations from the authors’ experience of working in mental health services for people with ID provides an informed and practical briefing for those encountering people with ID accessing mainstream services.
Standen, P., Clifford, A. and Jeenkeri, K. (2017), "People with intellectual disabilities accessing mainstream mental health services: some facts, features and professional considerations", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 215-223. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMHTEP-06-2016-0033Download as .RIS
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