Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Hub to Focus on Intersection between Developmental Disabilities and Mental Illness

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Hub to Focus on Intersection between Developmental Disabilities and Mental Illness

Article excerpt

New hub to research disabilities, mental illness


TORONTO - One of Canada's most high-profile mental health treatment centres says it's opening a new research hub that will focus on the needs of people with both developmental disabilities and psychiatric conditions.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says the new hub is the first in Canada to tackle the needs of a population that has long been ignored.

Statistics suggest that incidents of mental illness are considerably higher among those with autism, Down syndrome or other neurodevelopmental disabilities than among the general population.

The problem exists at all ages, but is worse for adults, as the few resources available while children are in school all but disappear once they age out of the system.

CAMH's new Azrieli Centre for Adult Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Mental Health will focus on research and education that experts hope will improve the way the medical community responds to this group's unique needs.

People with disabilities and medical experts agree it's common to see doctors conflate disability and mental illness, often dismissing the symptoms of one disorder by attributing them to the other.

Research on the topic is minimal, reflecting what many see as the level of care afforded to people who are both disabled and mentally ill. But the advocates and experts said the data that does exist illustrates the scope of the problem.

A 2012 study from CAMH and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found that 45 per cent of adults in Ontario with a developmental disability also had a psychiatric disorder, roughly twice the rate of the general population.

In 2010, a study from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found almost half of hospital admissions for people with such disabilities were for psychiatric reasons.

For Daniel Share-Strom, who has Asperger syndrome and struggled with mental health issues throughout his life, the overlap is easy to explain.

"From birth, whether it's from jerks or people who genuinely have good intentions, you're told every single day how weird you are and how wrong you are," Share-Strom said in a telephone interview. "People are trying to correct your basic instincts. On top of that, there's all these sensory challenge. People are naturally going to lose their confidence and naturally going to start feeling anxious about the world around them or depressed when thinking about their perceived failures."

Dr. Yona Lunsky, head of the new centre, said there are other causes behind the complex interplay between disability and mental health. …

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