Let’s Talk about Depression and People with Intellectual Disabilities

Today is World Health Day, a global day to give people a chance to take on a specific health topic of concern for people all over the world.

This year’s theme is: “Depression: Let’s Talk.”

To join the conversation, we talked with Karen Fry, Mosaic’s Mental and Behavioral Health Director and the Rev. Dr. Jim Fruehling, Mosaic’s Vice President of Behavioral and Spiritual Supports.

Fruehling and Fry work with a team to give Mosaic employees the tools they need to provide services for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health concerns like depression.

Here’s three things they said:

1. People with Intellectual Disabilities Can Have Depression (And Are at Higher Risk to Get it)

There are two factors that influence depression: situational (the perception of a major loss) and clinical (caused by brain chemistry.) Mental Health professionals used to believe that people with intellectual disabilities didn’t get depressed, but research shows that isn’t true. Not only can people with intellectual disabilities have depression, they are actually at higher risk for both causes.

They are especially at risk for situational depression because they may lack the ability (or are not given the chance) to control situations around them, Fry said.

“Medical problems can cause people to seem depressed,” she said. “Think about how you are likely to be grouchy if you don’t feel well.”

2. Treating Depression in Persons with Intellectual Disabilities Works (Even if it Looks and Feels a Little Different)

Mental health professionals know that doing certain activities (exercising regularly, eating healthy food and doing things that bring you joy) are important in treating depression.

Because people with intellectual disabilities often rely on family members or caregivers, those familiar relationships play a key role in making those activities happen. If those supports aren’t stable or consistent, it can be difficult for people to overcome depression.

Learn more about how Mosaic is equipping staff members to support people with intellectual disabilities and mental health concerns like depression.

3. Communication is Key (But it Takes Effort from Professionals)

Mental health professionals usually rely heavily on verbal communication to treat and diagnose depression. This preference makes diagnosing and lessening depression symptoms in people with intellectual disabilities difficult, but not impossible.

“The clinical expertise needed by some of the people we support is not always there in the community,” Fruehling said.

Even if a person doesn’t speak, there are other ways they can communicate both directly and indirectly. It’s important professionals who support people with intellectual disabilities pay attention to behaviors that seem unusual for a person, Fry says.

Examples include complaining and angry outbursts, as well as a lack of interest in things people used to enjoy.

“Behavior has a purpose and paying attention to what that behavior means can be key to helping someone,” Fry says.

Simple things like being patient, positive and helping individuals connect with people and things they love can go a long way, she added.

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