Article Summary: Recent advances in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder for mental health professionals  

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Various techniques are improving our understanding of FASD. Knowing that individuals with FASD often have comorbid mental health issues, Mental Health Professionals (MHP) are urged to understand the unique aspects of this disorder, in order to reduce stigma and properly treat individuals with FASD.

Knowledge of FASD among Mental Health Professionals

  • Due to the high prevalence of comorbid mental health conditions, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, individuals with FASD are a challenging population for MHP
  • Individuals with FASD tend to have high healthcare costs as well, associated with various physical and mental health conditions, resulting in more hospital visits
  • In improving the quality of care for people with FASD, MHP require advancing knowledge of assessment and treatment of FASD and comorbid conditions

Relevant interventions for MHP

  • Current Canadian diagnostic guidelines highlight the importance of acknowledging individual strengths and challenges, that will drive which specific interventions are used
  • MHP understanding the variability of strengths and challenges seen in those with FASD, will help to connect supports and strategies appropriate for the individual
  • Outlining realistic expectations and measuring goal progress for each individual, will help them reach success

The nature of FASD as a whole-body disorder

  • Previously thought of as primarily a ‘brain-based’ disorder, a shift in understanding of FASD is seeing the disorder as a ‘whole-body’ disorder
  • Over 400 conditions have been found to co-occur with FASD, which affect multiple organs and body systems
  • Mental health comorbidities are the most common, therefore MHP are in a position to recognize the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the entire system

Stigma of FASD and lessons for MHP

  • To reduce stigma around FASD, it is suggested that health professionals shift their language to focus on strengths rather than blame the birth mother for drinking while pregnant
  • It is also important for MHP not to assume the worst case scenario, because of an FASD diagnosis

Take-home message
Further work is needed to understand differences between professionals who deal with individuals with FASD, in order to give specific recommendations to MHP. Looking at FASD as a whole-body disorder will help MHP understand their mental health symptoms in a more unified way. Understanding FASD should be a priority for MHP, along with efforts to reduce stigma, in order to properly support individuals with FASD and their mental health.

Authors: Mansfield Mela, Kelly D. Coons-Harding, Tara Anderson 

Journal: Current Opinion in Psychiatry

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