Life on the Autism spectrum

Autism, health & depression

Whilst people with autism are often in good physical health, mental health problems can be common. 
Several people we talked with had health conditions including diabetes, eczema and food intolerances. Alex developed epilepsy after a road accident which was a consequence of her inability to judge distance and speed effectively.  She has a medic alert bracelet and her local hospital have “grab sheets” which provide different levels of information about her condition. She says that most health professionals pay little attention to these.
A few people had food intolerances which could cause them discomfort. Gail sticks to a diet of fruits, vegetables, meat, potatoes and rice to avoid getting stomach aches. Ian has become obsessed with his weight since his mum remarked that he was getting fat. He checks his weight every day and tries to walk as much as possible.
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Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression were common among the people we talked with.  Most said they had experienced depression in late adolescence/early adult life and several people had occasionally felt suicidal or tried to take their own lives. Christopher summarised his depression as an outcome of how people have treated him in the past;
“Loneliness, anger and frustration and, just unhappiness really. Just all of those into a big searing stew pot of despair.”
Some people related their depression to the difficulties they had with relationships, periods of unemployment or, in a few cases, debt. 
A few people talked about self-harming and two women “wandered in and out of bulimia and anorexia”. Several people described being bullied either at school or at work. Peter said:
“I was very good at hiding depression from my mum and dad. When I was bullied at school I used to always come home happy or that’s what they thought”.
Some people had tried to commit suicide by taking overdoses.  One man, for example, took an overdose after gambling away his life savings.  His wife was unaware of what he had done; he described thinking at the time:
“What am I going to do? You know, I am not working. I am not possibly having an income. How am I going to occupy my time?  I won’t be able to live the way I have lived up till now on retirement money and so on.  It all sort of came together and the last thing I thought of is sitting down and saying to [wife] “Look, I have been a stupid so and so. I have spent our money and what are we going to do now then?  Let’s work it out”.”
Another man who had got into a lot of debt and tried unsuccessfully to do extra overtime to clear it, became very depressed. He said:
“It never really clicked with me, I could actually go and see dad and say “I’m in a lot of trouble here”. And then everything just built up.”
Daniel linked his suicidal thoughts to periods when he was physically ill and he thought there was a link between his health and periods of depression.
Some people were seeing psychologists to help them with their depression and others took antidepressants. One man said:
“And so I was quite depressed and that is maybe when I got onto risperidone. They didn’t agree with me. I can’t remember. I have got so much stuff. I could set up my own chemist.”
Accessing appropriate support for their depression was generally difficult. 

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Last reviewed July 2016.
Last updated July 2016.


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