Autism and mental health: understanding the connection and support available
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
Disclaimer: This article may mention anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, which might be triggering for some individuals.
Autism is a complex spectrum condition that affects people in various ways. Approximately 1 in 100 individuals fall on the autistic spectrum. While the terminology surrounding autism has evolved over time, we prefer using the phrase “autistic person” in this article to align with the growing preference for identity-first language. However, it’s essential to communicate using the language that feels most comfortable for you.
Unraveling Autism: Understanding the Condition
No two autistic individuals are alike. Autistic people have diverse needs, ranging from requiring 24-hour care to simply requiring a bit more time to process information. However, certain traits are commonly experienced by most autistic individuals. These include:
- Difficulty recognizing and understanding others’ emotions while expressing their own
- Sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, and crowded spaces
- Preference for familiar routines and discomfort with unexpected changes or unfamiliar situations
- Intense interests or hobbies
- Longer processing time for information
It’s crucial to note that experiencing some or all of these traits does not automatically indicate autism. However, if these characteristics persist and significantly impact your life, it may be beneficial to consult with your doctor about obtaining a diagnosis.
The Intersection of Autism and Mental Health
Just like anyone else, autistic individuals can have good mental health. However, according to the autism research charity Autistica, seven out of ten autistic people also struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The reasons for this correlation are not yet fully understood, but potential factors include:
- Difficulties in navigating and understanding the world, leading to feelings of depression and anxiety
- Delayed diagnosis of mental health problems within the autistic community
- Increased likelihood of encountering stigma and discrimination
- Limited availability of appropriate support, such as therapists unfamiliar with adapting their approach for autistic individuals or group therapy options that may not be suitable for everyone
Seeking Assistance for Mental Health Challenges
If you’re autistic and require support for your mental health, it’s crucial to access the right resources. To begin, discuss your feelings with your doctor. The National Autistic Society offers valuable tips for making appointments more comfortable, such as having a friend accompany you, requesting additional time to answer questions, or adjusting the lighting to avoid sensory overload.
Your doctor may refer you to a therapist for talking therapy (or you may refer yourself if you reside in England). It’s worth asking potential therapists about their experience working with autistic individuals. The National Autistic Society provides a directory to help you find therapists who are either autistic themselves or possess an understanding of working with autistic people. Feel free to communicate your specific needs and preferences for a comfortable therapeutic experience, whether it involves modifications to the physical environment, session structure, or communication approach.
In certain instances, medication may be prescribed for mental health conditions. The National Autistic Society has developed a guidebook for autistic adults who are prescribed medication, offering information on the reasons for medication, potential side effects, preparing for medication reviews, and monitoring overall health.
Occasionally, a doctor may refer someone to a psychiatrist for further diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Ambitious about Autism provides valuable information on how to make the most out of appointments with a psychiatrist.
Self-Care Strategies for Autistic Individuals
Additionally, there are self-care strategies that autistic individuals can implement to support their mental well-being. Autistica has developed a set of tips for managing mental health, originally created during the coronavirus pandemic but applicable in various circumstances. Moreover, Autistica offers a free app called Molehill Mountain, specifically designed to assist autistic individuals in understanding and managing anxiety.
Valuable Resources and Information
Here are some useful resources and information for individuals seeking additional guidance:
- Ambitious about Autism provides information on self-regulation during challenging times, along with tips for managing anxiety for young people and families.
- The National Autistic Society offers a mental health hub, featuring comprehensive information on anxiety, depression, OCD, and other conditions. This resource explores how symptoms and treatment may align or differ for autistic individuals.
- Autistica includes information on autism and various mental health conditions within its “What is autism?” section.
- The NHS website provides a page on where to find additional support.
Remember, by understanding the connection between autism and mental health and accessing the appropriate support, you can foster a positive and well-rounded approach to mental well-being as an autistic individual.