By Michael Rock
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses that people experience. Frequent as it is among the general population, those with developmental and intellectual disabilities are more likely to suffer from it.
In one long-term study conducted by researchers at Guildford, England’s University of Surrey, 18.3% of people with cerebral palsy may experience a new event of depression over the course of six years.
For those with severe intellectual disabilities, depression can be hard to diagnose for various reasons, ranging from an inability for them to recognize or communicate their symptoms, or those caring for them not recognizing symptoms, which may manifest differently in such forms as greater agitation, screaming, disturbed sleep, reduced communication, and self-injurious behavior. Factors that may trigger it can include the loss of a loved one, a caretaker moving to a new job, routine changes, moving to a new residence, experiencing illness or injury, or being subjected to abuse or crime.
Bullying can also influence depression and other mental health challenges for people with disabilities. According to an Australian study, half of adolescents with disabilities who struggle with their mental health do so in response to mistreatment at the hands of peers.
Meanwhile, an estimated one fifth of people with autism suffer from depression. Those who are less profoundly impaired are more likely to experience it than those whose autism is comorbid with intellectual disability. An early diagnosis of autism can mitigate the risk of depression.
Combatting depression in people with autism ought to be a top priority, as it has been shown to reduce their already fragile social functioning skills.
Perhaps the best way to combat depression in people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, however, is to ensure their positive well-being by allowing them to work meaningfully with proper and adequate social supports.
As more and more research shows the factors that cause, influence, and alleviate depression in people with disabilities, more can and should be accomplished so that fewer of them have to suffer from it.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.