A feasibility study of behavioural activation for depressive symptoms in adults with intellectual disabilities

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Jahoda, A. ; Melville, C.A. ; Pert, C. ; Cooper, S.-A. ; Lynn, H. ; Williams, C. ; Davidson, C. (2015)

Background:\ud \ud Important work has been carried out adapting cognitive behavioural therapy for people with intellectual disabilities. However, there is a lack of alternative psychological therapies available for people with intellectual disabilities and emotional difficulties. Behavioural activation for depression is less reliant on verbal communication and focuses on increasing purposeful activity and reducing avoidance.\ud Method:\ud \ud This feasibility study involved the development and piloting of an adapted manual of behavioural activation for people with intellectual disabilities. The intervention consisted of 10–12 sessions and a key adaptation was that the therapist worked with the clients alongside a significant other in their life, either a paid carer or family member. Baseline, post-intervention (3 months after entering the study) and 6-month quantitative follow-up data were obtained. Primary outcome data were gathered, concerning depressive symptoms, participants' levels of activity and general well-being.\ud Results:\ud \ud Twenty-three adults with intellectual disabilities with symptoms of depression were recruited from specialist health services. In terms of acceptability, the behavioural activation intervention was well received and only two individuals dropped out, with a further two lost to follow-up. The main measures of depression appeared to be sensitive to change. Pre- to post-intervention data showed a significant reduction in self-report of depressive symptoms with a strong effect size (r = 0.78), that was maintained at follow-up (r = 0.86). Positive change was also obtained for informant reports of depressive symptoms from pre- to post-intervention, with a strong effect size (r = 0.7). Once again, this positive change was maintained at follow-up (r = 0.72).\ud Conclusions:\ud \ud The study suggested that behavioural activation may be a feasible and worthwhile approach to tackling depression in people with intellectual disabilities. However, a randomised controlled trial would be required to establish its effectiveness, with more sensitive measurement of change in activity.
  • References (1)

    Beck A.T., Steer R.A. & Brown G.K. (1996) BDI-II, Beck depression inventory: manual. 2d ed. Boston: Harcourt Brace

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