A closer look at mental illness and addictions in people with developmental disabilities

Although mental illnesses and substance use are common among people with developmental disabilities, little is known about people who have this combination of conditions. Health care providers may feel ill-equipped to meet the mental health needs of those with developmental disabilities because of the complex interplay of their disability with their psychiatric presentation. The limited research has focused strictly on mental illness, ignoring substance use because of the misconception that those with developmental disabilities do not access drugs or alcohol.

The Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) program examined how many of more than 66,000 Ontario adults with developmental disabilities received a mental illness and/or addiction diagnosis in a two-year period using administrative data held at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). They compared the health profiles and health care use of these individuals to other adults with developmental disabilities, and to adults without developmental disabilities.

For the group with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses and/or addictions, the researchers looked more closely at those with only mental illness, those with only addictions, and those with both, and compared these three groups across a range of health areas. Health service indicators of interest included the likelihood of using physician, hospital or emergency department services; admission rates and return visits to the hospital within 30 days; and staying in hospital longer than deemed appropriate or than necessary.

Read this H-CARDD Snapshot to learn about the results. This H-CARDD Snapshot is useful for provincial bodies supporting Health Check implementation as well as family health teams and other primary care providers interested in improving their practices for patients with developmental disabilities.

H-CARDD Snapshots present summaries of research in the field of developmental disabilities. You can also view the video below. And check out this Emergency Care Tool Kit.

H-CARDD is a research program with the primary goal of enhancing the overall health and well-being of people with developmental disabilities through improved health care policy and services. H-CARDD research is conducted by dedicated teams of scientists, policymakers, and health care providers.