So, as I have seen a lot of people talking about mental illness lately and listening to an album about mental illness it got me thinking about how much those with autism struggle with them.
I’ve been having on and off struggles with anxiety and depression lately. A lot of it has been a result of burnout. But nonetheless I still deal with it.
Part of my problems have also stemmed from how society, and sometimes how I am treated by people at my job, that have given me a reason to try and understand why those with autism are more likely than most to develop mental health issues.
So I decided to go to this site and check out why those with autism are hit harder with mental illness than others. Turns out, it was a very interesting read.
It starts out by talking about a former college student who is on the spectrum. David Share-Strom, am autistic motivational speaker, shares his experience of college with autism. Share-Strom had lived on campus and talks about the added anxieties and stresses of trying to live in the real world and how hard managing life and school is for those with autism.
The thing that was stated after this introduction was how young adults on the spectrum are more likely than those without autism to be diagnosed with some form of mental illness.
There isn’t any clarity on how much biology plays into this but a huge factor, that I agree with, is the environment in which we reside. Whether this be college, work, or simple everyday life.
Share-Strom goes on to say that mental health issues for those with autism don’t happen from birth. Things like depression and anxiety develop over time because the world isn’t built in a way that’s meant for people with autism.
That those who don’t deal with or understand autism, whether their intentions are good or not, will find a way to make you change who you are to fit society’s needs. Sadly, this causes higher rates of depression, anxiety, and sudicide to sky-rocket among those with autism.
The biggest key factor is providing resources during the transitional period into adulthood. This important piece of the puzzle will be explained throughout this post.
Yona Lunsky, a senior scientist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, says “when it comes to mental health diagnoses and use of psychiatric services, there’s a really strong need for the developmental disabilities community but it’s an even bigger need for folks on the spectrum”
Lunsky was the coauthor of a study done on those with developmental disabilities and neurotypical individuals developing mental health issues.
This study isn’t the first one done that finds a higher rate of mental health issues in those with autism compared to others with typical development. The results that were found though actually shocked me because I was unaware how badly those with autism were affected.
The data they collected was from two different groups, aged 18-24, and the study took place in Ontario, Canada. The first group had 5,095 young adults with autism. The second had 10,487 people who either had other developmental disabilities and no autism or a random selection of 20% of young people in Ontario who had no type of developmental disability.
This study showed that those with autism were five times more likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis than neurotypicals (individuals who develop normally) and two times more likely compared to othere with developmental disabilities.
To put that into an easier perspective, 52% of those with autism had a psychiatric diagnosis, 39% of those with other developmental disabilities had one and 20% of neurotypicals had one.
Eight percent of those on the spectrum were more likely to visit the emergency department for psychiatric reasons. Those with developmental disabilities were 7% more likely and neurotypicals were at 2%.
To contrast with that, non-psychiactric visits were similar bewteen autism and those not on the spectrum. Twenty-six percent of those with autism and 25% of neurotypicals went to emergency rooms compared to 34% of those with other disabilities.
Lunsky had stated that when this study was conducted, they didn’t intend to look at mental health. That was what happened to emerge and that the unmet needs of physical and mental issues should be recognized so the right help is provided.
Given this information, I never realised how hard it is for those with autism had it in society. I mean, I knew it was hard for me as well as others but this opened my eyes to how many are affected.
Knowing this information, the rest of this post, and the article I got this information from, I will be giving reasons as to why these numbers are so high and ways to help diminsh them.
Something that is very important for caregivers and providers of people with autism is that we show signs of anxiety and depression differently than neurotypicals. Understanding and recognising the symptoms is very helpful.
Although the article I read doesn’t go into detail about this, I would say that this information is based off of each person has a different way of showing the symptoms. Getting the person you care for the proper help should be based off that.
The most challenging process of caring for someone with autism is being able to help them with the transition into adulthood. Its a very doable thing to achieve but not an easy road. Teaching those with autism the basics of living, like laundry and cooking, around ages 12-14, can help ease them into being independent and how to be an adult.
Lynn Davidson, a pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics executive committee of disabilities, says that in order to achieve this independence, autisic youth need repeatitive modeling and experiences so they can gain the independence required.
The problem though is that families tend to do tasks for adolescents well past an age they can do them themselves. The best way to help with this is having parents and care providers have those with autism learn boundaries and use the skills they have to do the tasks they are learning.
In order for this to happen though, as well as learning to help them manage school, is getting a proper diagnosis.
One family in Toronto had their son originally diagnosed with social anxiety until he was diangnosed with autism at the age of 6.
Like I stated earlier, mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, develop later on in life.
The one thing to remember, that most don’t know, is that you should never be in denial of your child having an autism diagnosis. Instead, embrace who they are.
The family from Toronto said getting that early diagnosis was a big help for them. It gave them the chance to get the services they needed to help their son get the help he needed when he transitioned to college.
The even more important thing about all of this and why those with autism have higher rates of mental health issues is that people need to actually listen to those with autism. Even more important than getting professional help.
The reason being that each person with autism requires different needs for care and planning when transitioning to adulthood.
When a caregiver or parent is helping, you have to remember NOT to tell the person how they learn things or how they feel is wrong or that their instincts are incorrect. Doing this causes them to not trust their own judgement.
From my experience, it can cause a lot of issues later on in life. I struggle most times to trust my own judgement and decision making because anxiety convinces me I’m wrong. Even if what I’m doing is right.
With the right help, it is very possible to make sure a smooth(ish) transition to adulthood can happen. Although adulting can be hard, making sure you’re there to help a person on the spectrum makes it easier.
Aside from what the article gave me, I feel like these higher rates of mental health issues also stems from those on the spectrum being forced to live in a way that isn’t meant for them.
This was briefly touched on earlier and I wanted to elaborate more on it.
From what I’ve been through, especially lately, is that a vast majority of society is brainwashed by the media of what autism is. The media tends to portray autism as being the severe type. They don’t elaborate on the fact that there are 3 types. They don’t tell you each case is different from the next.
Which in return makes society think that those who aren’t severe are making it up because they aren’t acting in a way that’s expected of them.
I’ve had many people tell me I don’t have it because of this reason. Being female doesn’t help it either. Over time, I’ve developed anxiety and depression because people have told me I’m “too normal”, that I shouldn’t use the word disability because I’m too intelligent to have anything wrong with me.
Unfortunately, this type of treatment has forced me to not only feel like I can’t tell people I have it, but also forces me to not fully be me without fear of being judged.
This in return has made my depression, anxiety, and stress levels sky-rocket. So I do think this world is forcing those with autism to be something they aren’t meant for.
Whether my opinion is part of the reason behind the mental health increase in autism is just a guess. But time will tell if its true.