Mental health services not available to people with disabilities

Adam Harris, the younger brother of Health Minister Simon Harris, will highlight the difficulties people with intellectual disability, including autism, face trying to access mental health services when he addresses a conference today.

Mental health services not available to people with disabilities

Adam Harris, the younger brother of Health Minister Simon Harris, will highlight the difficulties people with intellectual disability, including autism, face trying to access mental health services when he addresses a conference today.

Mr Harris, 23, who was diagnosed aged four-and-a-half with Asperger’s syndrome on the autism spectrum, said people with intellectual disability were being failed on a number of levels in the community, particularly in access to healthcare and employment.

They were particularly vulnerable in the area of mental health.

“For instance, people with autism can’t access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services because there is gatekeeping going on,” he said.

Mr Harris said people with autism experiencing a mental health crisis were being “kept out of CAMHs” and redirected to disability services “which don’t have CAMHs” .

“So they often need to go privately for care,” he said.

Mr Harris, who will address the Praxis Care autumn conference in City North Hotel, Co Meath, today, said there were also difficulties accessing psychiatrists and that while those treating children undergo specialised training in autism, those working in adult services did not. He said all doctors should undergo such training.

“There is a certain cultural difficulty in the medical community when it comes to autism, a ‘that’s not part of my skillset’ mentality, but actually we are just patients as well. We need to be seen as three-dimensional human beings, and not put into a box where there is no recognition that we can experience the same mental health crises as everyone else,” Mr Harris said.

He said autistic people could struggle to access GPs.

He said even sitting in the waiting room or talking to the doctor could prove an ordeal.

Progress had been made in primary and second-level education, he said, where structured supports were generally in place, but when people “aged out of the school system”, they often found themselves unsupported in the community, with poor access to employment and socially isolated, which could lead to poor mental health.

Research shows a person with an intellectual disability is two to three times more likely to develop a mental health problem than the general population.

Mr Harris said that as an advocate for people with autism, he has raised the gaps in the services with his brother, whom he said “supports what I do and I am very proud of him”.

Publication of a review of autism services, to which AsIAm made a submission, is imminent. Mr Harris said they want a National Autism Strategy, underpinned by legislation.

He said they will be approaching the main political parties to ask them to include this demand in their manifestos for any upcoming general election.

Praxis Care is a charity that provides specialised intellectual disability, mental health and acquired brain injury services to more than 1,500 people in Ireland.

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