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S32 Step By Step Guide

Intellectual disability and mental illness

Courts are much more familiar with section 32 being available to people with mental illness than people with developmental disability. The section being in the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act adds to the confusion. Be ready for this.

Additional reading - IDRS case study Awareness of Developmental Disability

Intellectual disability vs mental illness

Confusion about the difference between mental illness and intellectual disability is common in the justice system. Some people with intellectual disability may also experience mental illness but the two conditions are very different.

Differences between intellectual disability and mental illness

Intellectual disability Mental illness
Thoughts are limited by cognitive ability and understanding. Disturbances in thought processes and perception. May experience hallucinations and delusions.
Is lifelong and will not dissipate. May be temporary, cyclical or episodic.
Onset occurs before 18 years of age. Onset can occur at any stage of life.
Medication cannot restore cognitive ability. Medication can be prescribed to control the symptoms.
Assessed by a psychologist. Diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

Mental illness in people with intellectual disability

A client with intellectual disability may also have a mental illness or mental disorder.

People with intellectual disability have a disproportionately high rate of mental illness when compared with the general population and a much lower rate of treatment and care. Prevalence estimates of 'mental disorder amongst Australian adults is 20 per cent, compared with 31.7 per cent amongst adults with intellectual disability.'

Morgan, V.A., Leonard, H., Bourke, J. and Jablensky A. (2008), Intellectual disability co-occurring with schizophrenia and other psychiatric illness: Population based study, British Journal of Psychiatry, 193(5).

Mental illness and mental disorders are poorly recognised and treated in people with intellectual disability.

You should be alert to the possibility that a client with intellectual disability may also be affected by mental illness. An assessment by a psychiatrist will help to clarify whether or not your client has a mental illness.

Check whether they take any medication for mental health conditions and whether they have a treating psychiatrist.

Challenging behaviourWorking with clients with Intellectual disability

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