Depression and anxiety symptoms during the transition to early adulthood for people with intellectual disabilities
Kristie Austin was a student in the Masters of Clinical Psychology program. She commenced her research in 2013 under the supervision of Dr Campbell and Associate Professor Mick Hunter, and Kristie was particularly interested in how young adults with intellectual disabilities are dealing with reaching adulthood. Her research was recently been completed and you can read a brief summary of the outcomes below.
The transition to adulthood is a major developmental milestone; a time of self-discovery and increased independence. For young adults with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) however, this period is especially challenging. The increased incidence of mental health disorders including depression and anxiety in this population make this transition even more difficult for the individual and increases caregiver burden at a time when the young adult would traditionally be gaining independence. It is not clear however, why young adults with IDs are more susceptible and what factors may predict the symptoms of mental health disorders.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression and potential risk and protective factors (demographic variables, coping styles, hopelessness, discrepancies between expected and achieved adulthood milestones, and self-reflection and insight) were assessed in 55 young adults with an ID and these results were compared with an age-matched control sample and assessed using multiple regression models.
The study identified insight as the strongest predictor of anxiety (with gender in the controls) for young adults with and without an ID with increased insight associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety. It was on these same variables, insight and anxiety, that significant between-group differences were found. Young adults with IDs had significantly less insight than their aged-matched counterparts and significantly higher levels of anxiety. They were also less likely to have achieved traditional adulthood milestones and maladaptive coping was the strongest predictor of depression for this group. In comparison, both maladaptive coping and insight were predictors of depression in controls. Increases in maladaptive coping predicted more symptoms of depression in both populations and increased insight predicted a few depressive symptoms in controls.
Developing programs to increase insight and reduce maladaptive coping is likely to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in young adults with an ID and should therefore be integral to future treatment programs. Such targeted treatments are likely to improve the responsiveness of this population to treatment and thereby reduce caregiver burden and improve the transition to adulthood for these young people.