Increased prevalence of intellectual disabilities in higher-intensity mental healthcare settings

BJPsych Open. 2021 Apr 22;7(3):e83. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2021.28.


Background: It has been suggested that people with intellectual disabilities have a higher likelihood to develop psychiatric disorders, and that their treatment prognosis is relatively poor.

Aims: We aimed to establish the prevalence of intellectual disability in different mental healthcare settings, and estimate percentage of cognitive decline. We hypothesised that the prevalence of intellectual disabilities increases with intensity of care.

Method: A cross-sectional study was conducted in different settings in a mental healthcare trust in the Netherlands. We used the Screener for Intelligence and Learning Disabilities (SCIL) to identify suspected mild intellectual disability (MID) or borderline intellectual functioning (BIF). We identified patients with a high level of education and low SCIL score to estimate which patients may have had cognitive decline.

Results: We included 1213 consecutive patients. Over all settings, 41.4% of participating patients were positive for MID/BIF and 20.2% were positive for MID only. Prevalence of suspected MID/BIF increased by setting, from 27.1% in out-patient settings to 41.9% in flexible assertive community treatment teams and admission wards, to 66.9% in long-stay wards. Only 85 (7.1%) of all patients were identified as possibly having cognitive decline. Of these, 25.9% were in long-stay wards and had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or substance use disorder.

Conclusions: Low intellectual functioning is common in Dutch mental healthcare settings. Only a modest number of patients were identified as suffering from cognitive decline rather than suspected MID/BIF from birth. Therefore, we recommend improved screening of psychiatric patients for intellectual functioning at the start of treatment.

Keywords: Intellectual disability; SCIL; community mental health teams; in-patient treatment; out-patient treatment.