Leaders develop mental health services for people with intellectual disability

Mental health for more than 400,000 people in NSW living with an intellectual disability was the focus of a national roundtable at UNSW opened by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

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NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, UNSW Professor Julian Trollor, Council for Intellectual Disability (CID) facilitator Alanna Julian, former CID chair Michael Sullivan and CID senior advocate Jim Simpson. Photo: CID

More than 100 leading mental health and disability experts gathered yesterday at a UNSW national roundtable to discuss action needed to improve the mental health of people with intellectual disability.

NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Brad Hazzard, opened the event by addressing the barriers that people with intellectual disability can face when accessing appropriate mental health services and support.

“People with disabilities deserve to receive the best health treatment possible but all too often, for a range of reasons, that standard of care is not always delivered,” said Minister Hazzard. “The Roundtable forum offers an opportunity to ensure the health community of NSW can lead the way on ensuring better outcomes for all members of our community, including those with disabilities.”

The national roundtable provided an opportunity for mental health advocacy groups, UNSW, the Black Dog Institute and the Council for Intellectual Disability to discuss new research, highlight innovations and make recommendations for improving nationwide services for people with disabilities.

The event was organised by the UNSW’s Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, Council for Intellectual Disability and the NHMRC Partnerships for Better Health team.

Professor Julian Trollor, Chair of UNSW’s Intellectual Disability Mental Health, highlighted the substantial health gap for people with intellectual disability and the importance of people with intellectual disability being embraced in mainstream mental health services.

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Professor Julian Trollor, Chair of Intellectual Disability Mental Health UNSW. Photo: CID

“Often mental health professionals are inadequately trained to meet the needs of people with intellectual disability and services are not prepared to be accessible to people with disability and carers,” said Professor Trollor. “Our team at UNSW is working with professional groups and services to make improvements, including developing apps and mental health guides.”

The Council for Intellectual Disability Senior Advocate Jim Simpson highlighted the fact that for many years people with intellectual disability were “almost invisible” to mental health services. 

“Now, the National Disability Strategy and the National Mental Health Plan squarely recognise their mental health inequalities and call for their needs to be specifically included in mental health initiatives,” said Mr Simpson.

The ongoing improvements on how mental health is managed for people with disability is crucial to ensure recognition for people suffering with mental illness.

The Chairperson of the Council for Intellectual Disability, Michael Sullivan, said: “Even now, after a lot of work and advocacy, we are often completely left out of the conversation about mental health. We are not encouraged enough to get help early. It is a fact that early intervention is one of the best tools to avoid serious mental illness. Early signs are often overlooked as behaviours relating to the person’s disability, and we need to recognise these to make sure the window to intervene isn’t closed for too soon.”