Digital GP and patientPeople with learning disabilities should have their mental health checked annually to ensure they are not living with undiagnosed conditions, NICE has said.

Mental health problems can be more difficult to diagnose for people with learning disabilities, as it can be harder for the person to explain how they are feeling and what help they would like.

Data shows only half of people with learning disabilities received a health check in 2011/12. This is an improvement on previous years, but it is not clear whether these checks included mental health questions or only focused on the person’s physical health.

NICE is recommending that everyone with learning disabilities receive an annual health check, which includes a review of their mental health.

Figures show there were more than a million people with a learning disabilities living in England in 2013. 

In the UK, 40% of adults and 36% of children with learning disabilities are known to experience mental health problems at some point during their life. Some types of mental health problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are more common in people with learning disabilities than those without.

NICE made a number of other recommendations, including: 

  • People with learning disabilities who need a mental health assessment should be referred to a professional with expertise in mental health problems in people with learning disabilities
  • People with learning disabilities and a serious mental illness should have a key worker to coordinate their care
  • People with learning disabilities and mental health problems who are receiving psychological interventions (such as talking therapies) should have them tailored to their level of understanding
  • People with learning disabilities who are taking long-term medications, such as antipsychotic drugs, should have annual documentation on the reasons for continuing this treatment.

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. 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.”