All patients with learning disabilities should have their mental health checked annually, according to a new quality target from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
NICE highlighted concerns that there were thousands of people with learning disabilities who also had mental health problems that were undiagnosed.
“Symptoms are sometimes wrongly attributed to their learning disabilities”
Such problems may be more difficult to diagnose for people with learning disabilities, because it can be harder for the person to explain how they are feeling and what help they would like, noted NICE.
The institute cited data showing that only half of people with learning disabilities received a health check in 2011-12.
While an improvement on previous years, NICE said it was not clear whether the checks included mental health questions as well as on physical health.
As a result, NICE said it was recommending that everyone with learning disabilities received an annual health check, which included a review of their mental health.
In the UK, 40% of adults and 36% of children with learning disabilities are known to experience mental health problems at any point in time, said the institute.
Some specific types of mental health problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were more common in people with learning disabilities than those without, noted NICE.
The recommendation is contained in a new NICE quality standard, published today, and titled Learning disabilities: identifying and managing mental health problems.
Other recommendations featured in the new standard include that people with learning disabilities and a serious mental illness should have a key worker assigned to co-ordinate their care.
In addition, those with learning disabilities and mental health problems receiving psychological interventions, such as talking therapies, should have them tailored to their level of understanding.
Also, people with learning disabilities who are taking long-term medications, such as antipsychotic drugs, should have annual documentation on the reasons for continuing the treatment, said NICE.
Ian Rogers, carer and topic expert on the NICE quality standard committee, said: “We know that people with learning disabilities have an increased risk of experiencing mental health problems.
“But their symptoms are sometimes wrongly attributed to their learning disabilities or a physical health problem, rather than an alteration in their mental health,” he said. “This needs to change.
“I hope that by NICE recommending annual mental health checks, alongside the physical health checks we know are becoming routine, we can help those suffering in silence get the help they need,” he added.
The publication of the standard follows yesterday’s government announcement of a series of new policies aimed at improving mental health provision nationally, including more than £80m of spending commitments to improve digital access and expand community services.