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So you have Autism and you’re depressed?

Updated: Sep 6, 2018

Studies have shown 3 out of 4 people with Autism Spectrum Disorder suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. While I was pondering these gloomy statistics I was reminded by what an old professor once said; “when we suffer enough, we will change.”

When people are in their darkest moments and contemplating suicide, when they have little self-esteem and their lives have been a constant struggle, what stops them from ending their lives? Do they get to the place in themselves when they have suffered enough and want to change? Do they then realize that they need to find new meaning in their lives and come to terms with their difficulties?

What gets a person to such a desperate place that they feel suicide is a logical choice? School, college pressure, childhood abuse, dependent adult abuse, medical illness and loss of family and loss of love are contributing factors. The lack of friendships and positive relationships significantly effect children, teenagers and adults.

Perhaps they are weighed down by too many burdens and may feel they are not living the life they had hoped, perhaps they do not know what to do and say in the social arena. For people with autism they often feel incompetent in social situations. They may desire connections, but do not know how to go about maintaining relationships. The confusion of the world, demands of school and work, adversity, isolation, confusion, may cause an already overwhelmed person to become anxious or depressed.

In some cases teenagers and adults with autism have major depression. They may lack motivation, have an irritated and or depressed mood, poor sleeping, poor eating habits and suicidal thoughts. In some situations a person requires hospitalization as they become so impaired that they need a place to be evaluated, given 24 hour supervision and stabilized. In times like these, the client, family and staff team feel under significant pressure to keep the person safe. Crisis management requires excellent coordination between all team members and a well thought out safety plan. The client may be despondent or agitated and may not feel optimistic about treatment at this time.

How do you know when depression comes knocking at the door and what do you do about it? Below are some questions for the person with ASD to help determine if they have depression.

  1. Are you feeling agitated, sad and isolated frequently?

  2. Do you feel that it is very difficult making friends at school or work?

  3. Do you experience your life as overwhelming and have lots of negative thoughts?

  4. Do you have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of hurting others?

  5. Do you suffer from an underlying medical illness? Many people with autism suffer from gastrointestinal issues or acid reflux and may not communicate when they are in pain.

  6. Do you struggle to work though the difficulties you face? Can you balance out the struggles with the positives of having Autism or Aspergers syndrome?

  7. Have you recently been hospitalized? Do you have a specific plan to hurt yourself and a specific time frame to do it in?

  8. Do you lack enjoyable activities and lack purpose?

  9. Do you have intrusive thoughts, panic and anxiety when in a social situation?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions you may be at risk of having depression or anxiety. Do not let your depression get so serious before you seek treatment from a therapist who has experience with autism and mental health. If you are feeling suicidal let someone know immediately. You can call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. You can also call 1800 suicide a 24 hour hotline for people feeling suicidal.

Nicky Palmer

Nicky Palmer is a Licensed Marital Family Therapist in the state of California. She is the Director of ASD Consultancy and has supported families on the spectrum for over eleven years. She is also an RDI ® Certified Consultant. You can contact Nicky at 562 298 0603 or go to for more information.

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