By Jill Hinton, PhD

Mental Health America established May as Mental Health Month in 1949. Since that time, May has been a month for promoting awareness, acceptance, and advocacy, and reducing stigma around mental health. This year’s theme, Where to Start: Mental Health in a Changing World, reminds us that the stresses and pressures of life affect all of us, and we all deserve to feel supported and empowered to seek help when needed. One in five people in the US experience mental health issue each year – no one is immune to this. We also know that people with IDD experience the same mental health conditions as neurotypical people. In fact, psychiatric disorders occur at a higher rate in people with IDD. Estimates of psychiatric disorders in people with IDD range from 25% to 55%.   

Facts to consider:

  • Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common for people with IDD, just as they are in the neurotypical population. Trauma related disorders are also common.
  • People with IDD often are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. There tends to be overdiagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  
  • Accurate diagnosing can be challenging in people with IDD.  One of the most common issues is the concept of ‘diagnostic overshadowing’. This is the tendency to attribute presenting issues to IDD as opposed to seeing them as symptoms or signs of a psychiatric disorder. For example, someone’s refusal to participate in activities is more likely to be seen as ‘non-compliance’ than as withdrawal/loss of interest due to depression.  

During this month, how do we raise awareness and acceptance in our communities?  We can begin by normalizing the conversation about mental health. Creating and supporting people, families, schools, workplaces, IDD service agencies, and our communities to engage in open, respectful, inclusive conversations about mental health and wellness is a first step. Bringing systems of support together to create safe and supportive environments will empower people to talk about their mental health and to feel more comfortable seeking help when needed.

In the START network, our April National Online Training Series (NOTS) focused on Rethinking Resilience and our recent SNTI carried on the theme of resilience. Promoting a shift from viewing resilience as an individual character trait to a human capacity that is supporting by community aligns with the theme of Mental Health Awareness Month. We acknowledge that our changing world can be stressful for all of us and that we all deserve to be supported and empowered. Focusing on strengths and increasing social connection and belonging through community go a long way toward building resilience. And actively building and promoting resilience is a powerful tool for prevention and treatment of the most common mental health issues.


Fletcher, R. J., Barnhill, J., & Cooper, S.-A. (2018). DM-ID-2: Diagnostic Manual, intellectual disability: A textbook of diagnosis of mental disorders in persons with intellectual disability. NADD Press.

Mental Health America.

Additional Resource 

For further reading, please review the Integrated Mental Health Treatment Guidelines for Prescribers in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

View IDD-MH Prescriber Guidelines