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New guidance to help support people with learning disabilities who have mental health problems

Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is consulting on draft recommendations designed to help people with learning disabilities who have mental health problems.

Around 1.5m people in the UK have a learning disability and 286,000 of these are children. It is estimated that 40 per cent of adults and 36 per cent of children with learning disabilities in the UK experience mental health problems.

Many of these people are not diagnosed straightaway as their symptoms are wrongly linked to their learning disabilities or because they are unable to describe how they are feeling.

This draft guideline, which is currently open for consultation, covers the full range of learning disabilities, and recommends that people should begin their treatment on the lowest effective dose of medication to take into account the potential side effects, and to reflect the difficulties that they may have in reporting these.

Professor Mark Baker, director for the Centre of Clinical Practice at NICE, said: “Absolutely anyone can experience mental health problems at any stage of their life. People with learning disabilities cannot always communicate their distress, and their symptoms can be masked or mistakenly overlooked. This means we need to do more to support them, their families and their care workers.”

The draft recommendations in this guideline address the organisation and delivery of support across a wide-range of settings including health, social care, educational, forensic and the criminal justice system.

The guidelines also says that specialised, communication-focused parent training programmes should be provided, consisting of around 8 to 12 group sessions offering support and raising awareness in families that have children with learning disabilities.

Professor Baker added: “I would strongly urge anyone with an interest or experience in this area to really look at the recommendations this draft guideline is suggesting. By working together we can make sure healthcare workers, social care professionals, educational leaders and supporting family members are well-equipped with evidence-based advice. We can help them support the people they care about.”

The consultation closes on Wednesday 20 April 2016 with the final guideline expected in the summer.

To view the draft guidance go to


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