Objective: In view of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Defeat Depression campaign, to review the existing literature on depressive episodes in people with learning disabilities.
Methods: Review of all papers identified to cover this area. Papers were identified by Medline search and also by direct checking of the contents in the preceding five years of eight key learning disabilities journals, the British Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Bulletin and bibliography in Current Opinions in Psychiatry. Papers about children or odd ‘depressive’ symptoms (rather than the syndrome of depression) were excluded.
Findings: For over a century it has been recognised that depression can occur in people with learning disabilities. However, the number of studies in this area is very limited. There remain many unanswered questions, such as those of prevalence, clinical presentation and diagnostic criteria, associated social factors, and the evaluation of treatments. Suitable rating scales have yet to be evaluated or devised. The authors propose diagnostic criteria for future use.
Conclusions: Research in this important area is very limited. Advances are yet to be made in the clinical assessment and management of the illness.