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Prevalence estimates of mental health problems in children and adolescents with intellectual disability: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Buckley, N., Glasson, E.J., Chen, W., Epstein, A., Leonard, H., Skoss, R., Jacoby, P., Blackmore, A.M., Srinivasjois, R., Bourke, J., Sanders, R.J. and Downs, J. (2020) Prevalence estimates of mental health problems in children and adolescents with intellectual disability: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry .

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Children and adolescents with intellectual disability are at risk of developing psychiatric symptoms and disorders; yet, the estimates reported in the literature have been inconsistent, presenting a potential barrier for service planning and delivery. Sources of variability could arise from differences in measurement instruments as well as subgroup membership by severity of intellectual disability, gender and age. This systematic review aimed to address these gaps.


MEDLINE and PsycINFO databases were searched from inception to 2018 and selected studies were reviewed. Studies were included if they reported point prevalence estimates of mental health symptomology or diagnoses in a general population of 6- to 21-year-old individuals with intellectual disability. The Joanna Briggs Institute Prevalence Critical Appraisal Checklist was applied to eligible papers to appraise their scientific strength. Pooled prevalence for mental health symptomology was determined using a random-effects meta-analysis.


A total of 19 studies were included, including 6151 children and adolescents. The pooled prevalence estimate captured by the Developmental Behaviour Checklist was 38% (95% confidence interval = [31, 46]), contrasting with 49% (95% confidence interval = [46, 51]) captured by the Child Behaviour Checklist; both rates were higher than a non-intellectual disability population. Severity of intellectual disability did not significantly influence the Developmental Behaviour Checklist risks. Insufficient data were available to conduct statistical analyses on the effects of age, gender and socioeconomic status. Of diagnosed psychiatric disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (30%), conduct disorder (3–21%) and anxiety disorders (7–34%) were the most prevalent conditions.


This review consists of the largest sample hitherto evaluated. In the intellectual disability population, mental health comorbidities could be better detected by a symptom phenotype than a psychiatric diagnostic phenotype. Crucially, future research needs to address the effect of measurement validity in the intellectual disability population. Estimated prevalence rates were high compared to the general population, indicating the importance of systematic screening, case detection and appropriate management.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education
Publisher: Sage
Copyright: © 2020 by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
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