Non-pharmacological interventions for adults with intellectual disabilities and depression: a systematic review

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2018 Aug;62(8):684-700. doi: 10.1111/jir.12502. Epub 2018 May 25.


Background: Although high rates of depression symptoms are reported in adults with intellectual disabilities (IDs), there is a lack of knowledge about non-pharmacological treatment options for depression in this population. The first research question of this paper is: Which non-pharmacological interventions have been studied in adults with ID and depression? The second research question is: What were the results of these non-pharmacological interventions?

Method: Systematic review of the literature with an electronic search in six databases has been completed with hand searches. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses guidelines have been followed. Selected studies met predefined inclusion criteria.

Results: Literature search resulted in 4267 papers of which 15 met the inclusion criteria. Five different types of non-pharmacological interventions have been studied: cognitive behavioural therapy, behavioural therapy, exercise intervention, social problem-solving skills programme and bright light therapy.

Conclusion: There are only a few studies of good quality evaluating non-pharmacological interventions for adults with ID and depression. Some of these studies, especially studies on cognitive behavioural therapy, show good results in decreasing depressive symptoms. High-quality randomised controlled trials evaluating non-pharmacological interventions with follow-up are needed.

Keywords: depression; intellectual disabilities; non-pharmacological interventions; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / complications*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / complications*
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Phototherapy / methods*
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychotherapy / methods*