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Intellectual Disability Mental Illness is an Unmet Need

  • Published: 2011-06-01 : Author: Royal Australian and NZ College of Psychiatrists
  • Synopsis: Calling for better recognition services and funding for people who have both an intellectual disability and mental illness.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is calling for better recognition, services and funding for people who have both an intellectual disability and mental illness.

"People with both intellectual disabilities and a mental illness often fall through the services gaps between the health and disability systems and their considerable needs are not addressed," said Dr Maria Tomasic, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

"The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists welcomes the government's recent commitment to developing a ten year roadmap for mental health reform. It is essential that the roadmap for reform addresses intellectual disability mental health. Having a voice for intellectual disability mental health on the new Mental Health Commission is also vital to ensure an inclusive approach to service planning and delivery for people with intellectual disability mental health issues," said Dr Tomasic.

"People with intellectual disability have high rates of mental illness, but very poor access to mental health services. They also experience poor general health, premature aging and shorter life expectancy, and need the support of carers and disability services," said Dr Tomasic.

"There are a number of challenges to improving access to high quality mental health care for people with intellectual disability. Limited verbal communication in people with more severe disabilities can make diagnosis of mental illness challenging. Mental illnesses are frequently not diagnosed or are misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated. Symptoms of mental illness can be misperceived by health workers as behavior related to the disability," said Associate Professor Julian Trollor, Chair of Intellectual Disability Mental Health at the University of New South Wales.

"The current mental health system has limited capacity to effectively treat people with intellectual disability. At present, mental health professionals lack confidence, training and expertise in this area. The limited expertise in Australia stands in contrast to that available for people with intellectual disabilities in the UK for example, which has a well developed specialty in intellectual disability mental health," said Associate Professor Trollor.

"There is a lack of focus on policy, funding and services for intellectual disability mental health in Australia. Funding for specific specialist intellectual disability mental health services, and enhanced training for mental health professionals is required. A more inclusive approach at a policy, planning and funding level is essential," said Associate Professor Trollor.

"Where the combined expertise in intellectual disability and mental health is available, mental health and disability services can work together to provide a holistic response to a person's needs," said Associate Professor Trollor.

"In recognition of the significant need in the area, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists established a Special Interest Group in Psychiatry of Intellectual Disability late last year which enables psychiatrists to come together to represent and discuss specific academic, clinical and practice interests regarding intellectual disability and mental health across Australia and New Zealand," said Dr Tomasic.

"The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is committed to working with its members, other relevant medical organizations, consumer and carer groups and government to improve mental health supports for people with intellectual disability," said Dr Tomasic. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists endorses, along with many other organizations, the joint Australian Association of Development Disability Medicine and National and NSW Councils for Intellectual Disability position statement, The place of people with intellectual disability in mental health reform, which will be launched today at 12pm at The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Congress which is currently taking place in Darwin.

The statement is available here:

There are a variety of sessions being held at the Congress today and tomorrow devoted to the discussion of intellectual disability psychiatry:

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