Background: Roughly 40% of those with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) have mental health needs, twice the national average. Unfortunately, outpatient mental health services are often inaccessible, increasing reliance on hospital-based services. While telemental health services hold potential to address this gap, little is known about the effectiveness of telemental health for the diversity of persons with IDD, especially as it relates to crisis prevention and intervention services. Accordingly, the aims of this study are to: (1) compare telemental health versus in-person crisis prevention and intervention services among people with IDD; and (2) understand if outcomes vary across subpopulations, in order to identify potential disparities.

Methods: This study will take place within START (Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources, and Treatment), a national evidence-based model of mental health crisis prevention and intervention for people with IDD. A total of 500 youth and adults, located across nine states, will be randomized 1:1 to telemental health vs. in-person. Participant inclusion criteria are ages 12–45 years, living in a family setting, and newly enrolled (within 90 days) to START. Outcomes will be assessed, using a non-inferiority design, for up to 1 year or until discharge. The intervention is comprised of four components: (1) outreach; (2) consultation/coping skills; (3) intake/assessment; and, (4) 24-hour crisis response. The in-person condition will deliver all components in-person. The telemental health condition will deliver components 1 & 2, via telephonic or other communication technology, and components 3 & 4 in-person. Outcomes include mental health crisis contacts, mental health symptoms, emergency psychiatric service use, perceived quality of mental healthcare, and time to discharge.

Discussion: To our knowledge, this will be the first trial of a telemental health crisis program for the IDD population. The study will be executed by an interdisciplinary team of experts that includes persons with lived experience of disability. Understanding the benefits of specific telemental health methods has important implications to the design of interventions. This telemental health study offers promise to address disparities in access to mental health care for people with IDD across diverse racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups.

Publication Date


Journal Title

BMC Health Services Research


Springer Nature

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



This is an open access article published by Springer Nature in BMC Health Services Research in 2023, available online: