Life events as a risk factor for psychological problems in individuals with intellectual disabilities: A critical review

Lee Hulbert-Williams*, R. P. Hastings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Stressful life events such as bereavement, moving house and changing jobs have repeatedly been implicated as risk factors for mental and physical ill health. Since the 1940s, researchers have demonstrated the negative effects of stressful life events, refined methods of recording such events and investigated the relative impact of different types of event. These investigations have generally not extended to include people with intellectual disabilities. Methods: We conducted a narrative review of research on life events as they occur to people with intellectual disabilities and critically assessed the evidence that life events function as a risk factor for psychological problems. Evidence was reviewed for an association between life events and a range of outcome variables, including affective disorders, challenging behaviour, psychosis and psychological problems more generally. We also critiqued the methodology behind the current evidence base and discussed a number of methodological advances that would help to strengthen it. Conclusions: There is reasonable evidence that life events are associated with psychological problems, and that there is some tentative evidence that life events play a causal role, although to date, no relationship with psychosis in people with intellectual disabilities has been demonstrated. Life events are likely to be pertinent in clinical work with people with intellectual disabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-895
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2008


  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Life events
  • Mental health
  • Psychological disorder
  • Stress


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