Mental health conditions can affect anyone, including people with developmental disabilities. In fact, there is a special term used to describe having both a diagnosis of a developmental disability and a mental health condition – this is called having a "dual diagnosis". The term dual diagnosis and this meaning are unique to the field of developmental disabilities. It has been estimated that between 30% and 70% of individuals with a diagnosis of developmental disabilities may also have a diagnosis of a mental health condition, and need psychiatric care.
As a direct support professional, some of the individuals who you support may have a dual diagnosis. Or, you may have concerns about the mental health of other individuals, even if they have not been diagnosed by a doctor as having a mental health diagnosis. By improving your understanding of mental health conditions, their signs and symptoms, and how they can be treated, you will be better able to assist all of the individuals you support.
A mental health condition is an illness of the brain. The brain’s job is to organize our thinking, feeling, and behavior. So, when someone has a mental health condition, he will probably exhibit signs of unusual thinking, feeling, or behavior. For example, individuals with mental health conditions may start to do or say things that don’t make sense. They may hear voices or think that people are trying to hurt them. They may feel so sad or hopeless that they do not want to get out of bed or even live anymore.
There are many different types of mental health conditions seen in individuals with developmental disabilities, and each of these conditions can affect the way people think, feel, and act in different ways. Some basic categories of mental health diagnoses include:
You can learn more about specific mental health conditions by checking out the websites listed at the end of this article.
Anyone can develop a mental health condition, but certain people are more likely than others to experience this type of disease.
Mental health conditions affect all people in similar ways; however, mental health conditions are more likely to go undiagnosed and untreated among people with developmental disabilities.
As a direct support professional, you play a very important role in helping health care professionals to make sure that mental health conditions are recognized and treated among the individuals who you support. If you notice any unusual behavior or moods among the individuals you support, you can let the person’s doctor know right away.
Mental health conditions that are not treated can get worse over time. As mental health conditions get worse, they can affect the way a person is able to function in daily life. For instance, some people with untreated mental health conditions can:
On the other hand, with the proper treatment many people with mental health conditions are able to get better or manage their condition so that they can live their lives as they want. You can support individuals to get the treatment that they need by talking to the person’s doctor if you notice any unexpected changes in the way the person is acting, feeling, or thinking.
Different mental health conditions have different signs and symptoms, but all mental health conditions will make people think, act, or feel differently than they are used to.
We all feel sad, anxious, or angry some of the time, but if these changes in mood or behavior
then, it may be a sign that the person may have a mental health condition.
It is often difficult for people who have a mental health condition to admit to themselves or others that they are ill. Changes in mood, thoughts, and behavior can be a frightening and uncomfortable topic for people to talk about; many people who have a mental health condition will not come forward to talk about how they feel. You can assist the individuals who you support by paying attention to their behavior and moods and encouraging them to talk to a medical professional when you notice changes that are affecting their lives.
Some general behavioral signs and symptoms that may indicate mental health conditions include:
For more information on specific signs and symptoms of different mental health conditions you can check out the resources at the end of this article. Also, this Safety Net article contains checklists for depression, mania, and psychosis.
You can use these checklists to keep track of the behavior of the individuals who you support and then share them with the individual’s doctor to help with diagnostic efforts.
If you think that an individual who you support has a mental health condition, you can ask the person about it and also call their health care professional with your concerns. When you call the person’s doctor, be ready to report the behavior you have noticed and to describe how this is different from the way the individual usually acts. It may help you to write this information down before you call. You can report:
The doctor will talk with you about your concerns and may ask that you bring the individual in so that he or she can talk with the person face-to-face. The individual’s primary care doctor may also refer him or her to a psychologist or psychiatrist for testing and diagnosis.
If an individual who you support has a mental health condition, the person’s doctor will find the treatment that is right for that individual. Different mental health conditions may need to be treated in different ways, but some common treatments for mental health conditions include medications and therapy.
The medications that people take for mental health conditions are called psychotropic medications. There are many different types of psychotropic medications that are designed to treat different mental health conditions. Before the individual’s doctor prescribes a psychotropic medication, you should let the doctor know the other medications that the individual is taking. The doctor will know which medications can work together and which cannot.
Another way that people are often treated for mental health conditions is through therapy. This can include:
The doctor will decide which treatment or treatments are right for the individual. Treatment techniques may need to be adjusted based on the individual’s communication abilities, medical, and family history. Therefore, individuals with the same mental health condition may be treated in different ways.
As a direct support professional, there are many ways that you can support individuals who are being treated for a mental health condition.
To learn more about specific mental health diagnoses, including their symptoms and treatments, you can check:
You can learn more about mental health diagnosis among people with developmental disabilities at these websites:
Also, be sure to check out these DDS Safety Net articles and presentations:
Last updated on June 14th, 2010