Recognizing and Treating Depression for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

BrightSpring Health Services / December 9, 2019

Did you know that depression and anxiety are the most frequent mental disorders in adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)? Approximately 4% of adults with intellectual disabilities live with depression (Cooper & Bailey, 2001Cooper, Smiley, Morrison, Williamson, & Allan, 2007).

Individuals with IDD may experience more life events due to different living circumstances and limited coping skills. Depression is not caused by a single factor. There are many causes, and the causes can interact with each other.  The holidays bring an increased experience of depression not only in individuals with IDD but in their care team as well. Stay alert for these signs and symptoms.

Risk factors for depression include:


Depression is all about neurotransmitters. The chemical communication between neurons of neurotransmitters across synapses cause one’s mood.  Serotonin and epinephrine neurotransmitters influence pain and mood, with dysregulation of these transmitters linked to depression.

Treatment is individually designed. The multi-disciplinary care team must thoroughly review those at greater risk for developing depression to avoid the lack of intervention. Both behavioral and cognitive programming has been proven successfully in mitigating the symptoms of depression.

Antidepressants that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine are normally the first line of treatment (SSRIs). It is ideal to have both programming/therapy and medication for the best result.

Holidays can be stressful.  As we concentrate on celebrating, it’s important to be mindful of the health and happiness of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities during this holiday season.

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