Supporting the mental health needs of adults with developmental disabilities and their families during COVID-19: A national capacity building project
Pre-pandemic, adults with developmental disabilities were at increased risk for mental health problems with over forty percent having a psychiatric disorder diagnosis. Limited mental health supports are available to this group and mental health providers are ill equipped to adapt their approach to treating this population. Untreated mental health issues have an impact not only on the people with developmental disabilities but also their family and paid carers. COVID‑19 has made the challenges already faced by people with developmental disabilities in accessing and benefiting from mental health services and supports worse. There is an urgent need to address the unique mental health needs of adults with developmental disabilities during COVID-19. To do so requires training for health care and social service providers, families and the individuals themselves. Specifically, each of these groups need tailored resources to help communication of mental health needs; mental health screening; managing depression and anxiety; and resources to assist with caregiver stress. In this one-year study, we will work together with health and social service providers, with families, and with self advocates with developmental disabilities to build their capacity to address mental health issues, focusing on these 4 areas. We will do this by offering 6-week virtual education using a “hub” and “spokes” model, where participants from across the country can learn together with the centralized experts in the hub. We have already developed the material to be taught and we piloted virtual delivery within Ontario in the first three months of the pandemic. We will test how this works with surveys and interviews. Our team includes people with developmental disabilities, families, and clinicians, as well as scientists, policy makers, and advocacy groups from across the country, who are in strong agreement that we need to be working together to address these urgent mental health concerns.