Connections - 06.30.21

Supporting Our Minds: A Mental Health Tool for Supporters of People with I/DD

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By Craig Escudé, President, IntellectAbility

 Dr. Craig Escude, President, IntellectAbilityWe’ve been through a lot in the past year and a half, and it has taken a toll on many aspects of our lives including our mental health. Research has shown that long periods of quarantine, social distancing and isolation in situations such as in a pandemic can harm mental well-being and increase depression, anxiety, loneliness, risk of suicide and more (Brooks, et al., 2020; Dubey, et al., 2020; Qui, et al., 2020).

Another thing we know is that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be more likely to experience these effects and less likely to be able to express what they are experiencing to others, especially those with communication differences. When health conditions go unnoted, whether medical or mental, people experience unnecessary suffering and are at greater risk for overall health destabilization. This is why it is so very important for support staff to know the early signs of both medical and mental health conditions and how they might look differently in people they are supporting.

Here are a few examples of behaviors that can indicate an underlying mental health condition. Wringing of one’s hands, scratching, and skin picking can be signs of anxiety as can new food obsessions and stealing food. Actions that can be indicators of a depressed mood include refusing to shower, increased self-injurious behavior and more.

The Clinical Advisory Team at IntellectAbility has created a downloadable reference to help supporters of people with disabilities learn how signs of anxiety, depression and loneliness might appear in people who use behaviors rather than words as their primary means of communication. Print out your free copy and use it with in-service staff to increase awareness and early identification of these conditions. The flyer also has tips on what supporters can so when they identify these symptoms.

Arming supporters with tools and training to help them identify early signs of medical and mental health conditions is an important part of a provider’s responsibilities and invaluable to people they are supporting. Learn about other tools and training at

Dr. Craig Escude, MD, FAAFP, FAADM is President of IntellectAbility.

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