Depression is a mental health problem that is common in autistic people. Depression can have a big impact on daily life and can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Depression in autistic people is more more common during adolescence and young adulthood. It often occurs with other conditions, such as anxiety.
Common symptoms of depression in autism
Depression affects autistic people in different ways. Symptoms include
- feelings of hopelessness
- physical symptoms, such as always feeling tired
Depression can also cause an increase in behaviours associated with autism including
- obsessive behaviours
- stereotyped behaviours, such as body rocking
- social withdrawal
- oppositional and aggressive behaviour
- sleep disturbance
Depression is linked to intellectual disability and epilepsy. Both these conditions are more common in autism but it is not known whether autistic people with intellectual disability and/or epilepsy are at greater risk of depression.
Depression also increases suicidal thoughts and we know that autistic adults are much more likely to consider suicide than the general population.
I feel that anxiety and depression I have suffered over the years is the result of my autistic mind having to cope with a neurotypical world
Jon, autistic adult
What you can do about depression
See your doctor
Autistic people tell us that going to the doctor can be stressful because they feel that health professionals do not understand their needs. But seeing your doctor when you’re experiencing symptoms of depression is an important step towards looking after yourself.
Some people take medication, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, to manage their depression. Your doctor can discuss options with you. Some small research studies report that medication improves low mood, sleep disturbance and self-injury in autistic people. Make sure you always tell the doctor or therapist about your autism because it may affect the treatment you are prescribed and how your doctor communicates with you.
Talking to a therapist can help you find ways to cope with your depression. There is some evidence to support the use of talking therapy with autistic people, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT has been adapted for autistic people but more research is needed to understand how effective it is at treating depression.
Find out more about CBT on our page about anxiety and autism.
Many autistic people find that sharing their experiences with other autistic people helps them feel less anxious. It might be difficult to tell people how you are feeling, but talking to someone can really help you to feel better. If you can’t talk to a family member or a friend, contact a support group.
Find out more
Read our leaflet on mental health and autism