Adolescents with learning disabilities may have considerable unidentified and untreated mental health problems


Rates of mental illness in adolescents with learning disabilities have been reported as higher than those expected in adolescents without learining disabilities. This study set out to look at the prevalence and predictors of mental health needs and service use in adolescents with learning disabilities.

They researchers worked with a service-based sample of 75 young people from a single catchment area. They looked at the presence of mental health needs using the Developmental Behaviour Checklist and came to a view following individual assessments of the participants.

Prevalence of mental health needs reported by parents of the young people was 51%, but following the assessments, this increased to 67%.

They found that these needs were associated with low adaptive functioning, ving diagnosis of autism and a family history of mental illness.

Interestingly, they found that high scores on parent reports mental health needs in the young people were negatively correlated with adaptive functioning scores.

With regard to the nature and range of service use by participants, they found that most of the young people in the sample were getting some level of support from social and health care services. Half the participants had sought specific help for their mental health needs. They found that nearly half of those who were receiving medication were on some form of psychiatric medication.

They authors conclude that adolescents with learning disabilities may have considerable mental health problems that are functionally impairing, but that they may be unidentified and therefore untreated.

They recommend that in order to identify those at risk, there should be a comprehensive needs assessment to

maximize potential and quality of life and to reduce further deficits and social exclusion.

Mental Health Needs in Adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities: Cross-Sectional Survey of a Service Sample, Hassiotis, A.  & Turk, J. , in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 25: 252–261.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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