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The Relationship Of Developmental Disabilities With Mental Health

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Health can be understood as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of a disease or disability. The term “mental health” includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. It is all-encompassing and affects the way you think, feel and act.

Hence, mental health is important at every stage of an individual’s life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Stable mental health can be thought of as a work in process; it’s not about when you reach your destination but how you reach there.

Throughout an individual’s life, numerous factors can cause mental health problems, affecting their thinking, mood and behaviour; such as biological factors, traumatic life experiences and a family history of related problems. Amongst these, childhood and developmental disorders are an emerging issue faced by the healthcare system. Kessler et al. (2007) stated in their study, “The onset of many adult mental and developmental disorders occurs in childhood and adolescence.”

These childhood mental and developmental disorders include neurodevelopmental, emotional and behavioural disorders that can have extensive and serious impacts on their social and psychological well-being. Affected children require crucial additional support from their families and educational institutions as these disorders frequently persist into adulthood (Shaw et al. 2012). They are also more likely to experience a compromised developmental trajectory, with an increased need for medical and disability services.

differently abled
Individuals with IDD are at a 33% higher risk of mental illness.

Developmental Disabilities can be branched into two major divisions, Intellectual Disabilities (IDD) and Physical Disabilities, which sometimes, but not always, occur together. They are chronic conditions that appear at birth or in childhood, before the age of 22.

In some cases, mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities occur together, which is referred to as comorbidity, i.e. independent co-occurrence of one or more disorders, which illustrates categorical measures of mental disorder and serious psychopathology.

Both developmental disabilities and mental illnesses are diagnosed by psychology professionals, although their medical expertise might vary concerning an individual’s case. Some individuals may suffer from multiple conditions, including combinations of developmental disorders and mental illnesses, the diagnosis and treatment covered by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The DSM-5 has recognised that the boundaries between disorder categories are rapidly changing than ever before. The symptoms once assigned to a single disorder may also occur at varying levels of severity in order disorders (Munir, 2016).

For example, Autism Spectrum Disorder is the name given to a group of developmental disorders often characterised by impairments in communicating and interacting with others. It includes a wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of disability. These disorders occur in about 1.5% of children and often co-occur with major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and sensory integration disorder (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

According to a study conducted by Maria Quintero and Sarah Flick, individuals with co-occurring intellectual and developmental disabilities have shown concerning statistics that reflect that individuals with IDD are at a 33% higher risk of mental illness. Biological and social factors increase their susceptibility. This is because mental illnesses are caused or aggravated by biochemical irregularities and a brain with reduced performance is at a higher risk of biochemical imbalances.

In addition to this, people with IDD are often secluded and have few, if at all, social networks of support. They are often left alone in social settings and educational activities or are treated differently. This isolation becomes more apparent with age when they graduate without any established social circles. This social isolation and exclusion combined with already prevalent brain differences, more often than not, set the stage for susceptibility to mental illness (Quintero and Flick, 2010).

Thus, children with developmental disabilities are at a substantially greater risk of developing mental health problems than typically developing children. However, the mental health comorbidity often goes unrecognised in these cases, leading to reduced quality of life and increased burden of care.

With the growing understanding of mental health and related disorders, there has been a surge in consciousness towards the need for community services and support provided by social workers, such as for people with a dual diagnosis. However, there is still a dearth of professional services working in this realm in the Indian context.

Programs like ADAPT — developed by the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA) of Harris County, based in Houston — help adults develop coping and self-management skills and access local resources needed to learn, work and live as contributing members of their communities. They offer hope, opportunity and encouragement to the most vulnerable populations’ mental professionals. Communities from across the world could benefit from the program and, therefore, should look to implement the same.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder.
  2. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Declaration on health parity for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Joint Position Statement on Health, Mental Health, Vision and Dental Care.
  3. Patel, V., D. Chisholm., T. Dua, R. Laxminarayan, and M. E. Medina-Mora, editors. 2015. Mental, Neurological, and Substance Use Disorders. Disease Control Priorities, third edition, volume 4.
  4. Quintero, M. & Flick S. 2010. Co-Occurring Mental Illness and Developmental Disabilities. Social Work Today.
  5. American Psychiatric Association (APA) The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.
  6. Kessler RC, McGonagle KA, Zhao S. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in among persons 15 to 54 in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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