Thousands of people with learning disabilities may have undiagnosed mental health problems, experts fear.
New guidance recommends that people with learning disabilities should have their mental health checked every year.
The guidance comes from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It is the UK’s official body for providing guidance and advice to improve health and social care.
Harder to explain turmoil
The organisation says it’s harder for people with learning disabilities to explain any turmoil they might be enduring. This may well prevent them from asking for help.
Figures show there were more than a million people with learning disabilities living in England in 2013. However, only half received a health check in 2011/12.
It is not clear whether these checks included mental health questions. NICE is concerned that the checks may have focused purely on physical health.
Mental health problems widespread
In the UK, 40 per cent of adults and 36 per cent of children with learning disabilities experience mental health problems at any given time.
Some mental health problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are more common in people with learning disabilities.
Ian Rogers, carer and topic expert on the NICE quality standard committee, stresses the importance of more mental health checks. He said he wants to see an end to people with learning disabilities “suffering in silence” when they also have mental health problems.
Symptoms wrongly attributed
He said: “We know that people with learning disabilities have an increased risk of experiencing mental health problems.
“But their symptoms are sometimes wrongly attributed to their learning disabilities or a physical health problem, rather than an alteration in their mental health. This needs to change.”
Another NICE recommendation is to ensure there are annual reviews for people with learning disabilities who are taking long-term medication, such as anti-psychotics.
It also wants to see talking therapy that is tailored to the understanding of those receiving it. Talking therapy helps people work out how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings and make positive changes.
In addition, NICE insists that people should be referred to a professional with expertise in mental health problems affecting people with learning disabilities. It adds that a key worker should co-ordinate such care.