'Hidden tragedy': Vulnerable with mild disability ‘confined in institutions’

Vulnerable people with mild intellectual disabilities are being preyed on sexually and financially in the community or locked away in unsuitable psychiatric hospital wards and nursing homes.
'Hidden tragedy': Vulnerable with mild disability ‘confined in institutions’
Liam Quaide welcomed the appointment of Roderic O’Gorman as Minister for Disabilities.

Vulnerable people with mild intellectual disabilities are slipping between underfunded disability and mental health services, neither of which can fully support them.

Liam Quaide, a Green Party Councillor and a psychologist in Cork, has highlighted the issue, and is calling for the urgent provision of community residential facilities in Cork and nationwide to address this problem.

"There is a complete lack of residential services for people with mild intellectual disabilities at present. As a result, people can be left languishing in psychiatric wards where their condition worsens.”

“People in their 30s and 40s, who have strong potential for rehabilitation, are sometimes transferred to nursing homes where they have very limited stimulation and they can deteriorate quickly.

“It’s a hidden tragedy. These people don’t have a voice.

“When people with an intellectual disability are living in the community without family supports, they can be exploited, sexually and financially. And clinicians attempting to support them face a demoralising series of closed doors trying to find them suitable residential facilities.

"The lack of residential services for this group of people makes no sense, either ethically or economically, as they often require more intensive support when their distress worsens in inappropriate psychiatric settings.”

Mr Quaide welcomed the appointment of Green Party colleague Roderic O’Gorman as Minister for Disabilities, saying that “Roderic O’Gorman cares deeply about human rights, and this is a human rights issue."

Residential facilities already exist for people with moderate intellectual disabilities and, in parts of Cork, for people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties. Here they can pursue training or employment opportunities and integrate into their community.

But those with mild intellectual disabilities who experience mental health difficulties do not currently qualify for this support.

“It’s very obvious what is needed. Funding for these services," Mr Quaide said. "It basically comes down to a lack of funding and political will.

“Some people residing in psychiatric wards or nursing-homes would flourish if they were living in an Intellectual Disability service, pursuing meaningful goals, attending courses, securing employment and forming relationships.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If a person had a lower IQ or severe and enduring mental health difficulties they would have a better chance of accessing residential services. So we just need a similar model extended to those with mild intellectual disabilities so that they too can have a fulfilling life.”

He said that someone with a mild intellectual disability “would struggle with academic attainment and with social understanding" but they could work in a job that was not cognitively demanding.

“When an intellectual disability is combined with a mental health difficulty - like severe anxiety - the person can require significant supports.”

Mr Quaide requested information through Cork Co. Council from the Departments of Disability and Mental Health on how many people are in this vulnerable category within the Cork mental health services. He was told by the Department of Disability that the request breached data protection, which he said amounted to "a concerning lack of transparency" as it was “essentially statistical information, not anything personal or identifying” that was being sought.

Cork Co. Council have agreed to re-address his queries to the HSE directly.

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