Planet Rachael: When lack of knowledge leads to exclusion from mental health support

Wendy Johnson describes the frustration of trying to obtain mental health support 

Wendy Johnson describes the frustration of trying to obtain mental health support for people with learning disabilities or autism

The mental health needs of people with learning disabilities and autism can be overlooked
Picture: Apex

I am not the greatest comedian in the world but I have been known to raise a smile or two.

Take last week, when I told Rachael I had seen a work incident report that said someone had swallowed a toilet disc and then left the relevant department before being assessed. I concluded this story by saying I wondered if the problem was that the patient was flushed on admission?

I would have expected at this point to get a laugh, or at the very least a groan and an upturned twitch of the mouth, but did I? Sadly no.

For a while now Rachael’s mood has been low. I am aware as a parent and a healthcare professional that people with learning disabilities are at increased risk of mental health problems. Research suggests that up to 40% of adults with learning disabilities experience mental health problems at some point in their lives.

Poorer outcomes

Rachael has been assessed by mental health services as requiring longer-term mental health intervention. Our problem is that a further assessment found she does not meet the criteria for support, and round we go again.

I wonder how well-informed mental health services are in relation to learning disability and mental health, particularly those problems that develop and present in different ways in people who do not have a learning disability? If the services are not knowledgeable then exclusion from support becomes more likely and long-term health outcomes inevitably poorer.

I welcome proposals to introduce mandatory training for health and care staff in learning disabilities and autism. A consultation on this runs until 12 April and you can have your say here. It may be our one chance to influence the physical and mental health experience for generations of people with learning disabilities.

Wendy Johnson is head of safeguarding adults at risk and nursing lead for learning disabilities at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Swindon, and writes about life with her daughter Rachael, who has autism



Further information

Open consultation: Learning disability and autism training for health and care staff

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