The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities(FPLD) has called for people with learning disabilities to have equality of access to mental health services, after a new report revealed that many struggle to get the support they need.

The FPLD’s report, Feeling Down: Improving the mental health of people with learning disabilities, found that while people with learning disabilities are three times more likely to develop poor mental health than the general population, they continue to struggle to access mental health support and services.

Some of the key problems with accessing mental health support that people with learning disabilities cited in the report included:
• People did not see them – they just saw their learning disability
• Information provided was not accessible or in a format they could understand
• They were not believed, listened to or supported when they felt down
• They wanted to have more control around their mental health
• A diary and information to explain what was happening to them would make it easier to talk to staff and tell the GP how they were feeling.

Further reading: LDT editor's Blog - How about a learning disability action plan too?

To counter this, the report made a number of recommendations, including:
• Every clinical commissioning group (CCG) should appoint a specialist learning disabilities clinical lead to advise and act as champion for the needs of people with learning disabilities
• Professional bodies responsible for education and training should introduce compulsory modules on learning disability for all health professionals including psychiatrists, GPs and psychotherapists in training posts
• General practices should ensure they have identified all people with learning disabilities on their register and offer appropriate health checks (which include mental health) and health action plans through regular audits to be shared with the local Health and Wellbeing Boards and CCGs
• NHS England should audit the roll-out of inclusive national mental health programmes such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, dementia screening and information prescriptions, checking that they are delivering inclusive services.

Wake-up call
Baroness Sheila Hollins, who hosted the launch of the report in the House of Lords, described it as a “wake-up call” to policy makers, commissioners, regulators, professional bodies and providers: “We know that the majority of people who have mental health problems including anxiety and depression do not receive such prompt and comprehensive care as they do for physical health conditions, and timely access to mental health services is even worse for people with learning disabilities,” she said.

Jenny Edwards CBE, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, added: “People with learning disabilities should have equality in the campaign for good mental health services for everybody. The most vulnerable people are being let down.

“The report highlights that despite the fact that 20-40% of people with learning disabilities experience a mental health problem, it appears that little is being done to promote mental health to their families and frontline staff. The report draws attention to the fact that access to mental health services, assessment and treatment for this group of people needs to be improved.”

Taking responsibility
Christine Koulla Burke from the FPLD, and author of the report, said: “There is more to accessing mental health services when considering the needs of people with learning disabilities. The first being that their symptoms are recognised and they are believed.

“It is time that commissioners, Health and Wellbeing Boards and CCGs took responsibility for equality in practice and delivery of services to ensure accessible, inclusive and valuable psychological support is available for all individuals with learning disabilities.”

As part of the campaign, the FPLD has also launched an easy read guide for people with learning disabilities – Feeling Down: Looking after my mental health – to support them to look after their mental health. The guide was developed in partnership with people with learning disabilities who felt strongly that they wanted more control of their own mental health and wellbeing and something that they can use to help them explain their feelings to their GP. To download the resource, visit www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/publications/feeling-down-looking-after-my-mental-health/