BEAT-ing Depression in adults with learning disability

A team at the University of Glasgow and collaborators at Bangor University and the University of Lancaster have received £1,207,488 funding from National Institute for Health Research to test the effectiveness of a new treatment for depression for people with a learning disability.

Even though depression is the most common type of mental health problem experienced by adults there is a lack of evidence about psychological treatments for people with learning disability. Significant health inequalities are faced by people with learning disability, and so the funding is especially welcome.

The research trial is of a recently adapted version of a psychological approach called Behavioural Activation, named BEAT-IT. Behavioural Activation relies less on people having good communication skills than other commonly used psychological treatments, which means that more people with learning disability may be able to benefit.

The aim of Behavioural Activation is to get people with depression involved in positive activities and to engage in everyday tasks they may have been avoiding. Therapists will work alongside the depressed individual and a key support person in their lives. The aim is to ensure that continuing support will be available to help the individual sustain real life change.

The team of researchers intend to find out if the participants getting BEAT-IT are more likely to: i) show a reduction in symptoms of depression, ii) increase their activity iii) have an improved quality of life. We will also examine whether the BEAT-IT treatment is cost effective. Participants with learning disability and their carers will be asked what they think about the BEAT-IT treatment.

In the proposed study, half the participants will take part in the BEAT-IT treatment, and half will receive a control intervention. The study will take place in Glasgow, North Wales and North West England.

The team is made up of researchers with expertise in working with people with learning disability, experts on clinical therapeutic interventions, and experts in using statistics and health economics in research. In each of the three centres we have strong links with the NHS and specialist learning disability services. 

Professor Andrew Jahoda Professor of Mental Health & Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, and leader of the research project, pointed to the importance of adapting the approach to people’s circumstances,  “Behavioural activation may be a more effective means of helping people with learning disability overcome depression. Many of these individuals are socially marginalised and don’t have the same chances to take part in purposeful activity as others in society.   It’s also one of the reasons that depression can sometimes be overlooked in this population, because it can be harder to notice when people become withdrawn. We hope this research will ultimately help people with learning disability have better access to psychological treatments for depression with proven effectiveness.” 


Find out more

Professor Andrew Jahoda, Professor of Mental health and Wellbeing

Institute of Health and Wellbeing

For further information, contact Cara MacDowall on 0141 300 3683 or email

First published: 12 March 2013

<< March