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Digital mental health and intellectual disabilities: state of the evidence and future directions
  1. Rory Sheehan,
  2. Angela Hassiotis
  1. Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rory Sheehan, Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London W1T 7NF, UK; r.sheehan{at}


The use of digital technologies in the management of mental illness, and more generally in the promotion of well-being and mental health, has received much recent attention and is a focus of current health policy. We conducted a narrative review to explore the opportunities and risks of digital technologies in mental healthcare specifically for people with intellectual disability, a sometimes marginalised and socially excluded group. The scope of digital mental health is vast and the promise of cheaper and more effective interventions delivered digitally is attractive. People with intellectual disability experience high rates of mental illness and could benefit from the development of novel therapies, yet seem to have been relatively neglected in the discourse around digital mental health and are often excluded from the development and implementation of new interventions. People with intellectual disability encounter several barriers to fully embracing digital technology, which may be overcome with appropriate support and adaptations. A small, but growing, literature attests to the value of incorporating digital technologies into the lives of people with intellectual disability, not only for promoting health but also for enhancing educational, vocational and leisure opportunities. Clearly further evidence is needed to establish the safety and clinical efficacy of digital mental health interventions for people with and without intellectual disability. A digital inclusion strategy that explicitly addresses the needs of people with intellectual disability would ensure that all can share the benefits of the digital world.

  • information technology
  • telemedicine
  • world wide web technology
  • mental health
  • psychiatry

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  • Contributors RS developed the idea for the study, conducted the literature search, interpreted the literature and wrote the manuscript. AH developed the idea for the study, interpreted the literature and wrote the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship awarded to RS (reference: DRF-2016-09-140).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their employers or funders. The funder had no role in study design, analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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