De­pres­sion strikes nearly 20 per cent of young adults with autism: Study

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Vital Signs -

DE­PRES­SION af­fects al­most 20 per­cent of young adults with autism, new re­search shows, a rate that’s more than triple that seen in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. And young adults with autism who were rel­a­tively high­func­tion­ing – mean­ing they did not have in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties – were ac­tu­ally at higher risk of de­pres­sion than peo­ple with more se­vere forms of autism, Bri­tish re­searchers found.

In the study, this higher-func­tion­ing sub­group was more than four times as likely to suf­fer from de­pres­sion, com­pared to peo­ple with­out autism. Peo­ple with autism with­out in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties “may be par­tic­u­larly prone to de­pres­sion be­cause of greater aware­ness of their dif­fi­cul­ties,” the re­searchers the­o­rised. The study was led by Dheeraj Rai, of the Univer­sity of Bris­tol. His team pub­lished the find­ings on­line in JAMA Net­work Open.

Ac­cord­ing to one US ex­pert, the find­ings mir­ror what many in the autism field have seen. “Given the con­sid­er­able so­cial strug­gles that in­di­vid­u­als with an autism spec­trum dis­or­der ex­pe­ri­ence, it is not sur­pris­ing that they are at sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased risk for de­pres­sion,” said Dr An­drew Ades­man. He di­rects de­vel­op­men­tal and behavioural pae­di­atrics at Cohen Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­tre in New Hyde Park, New York.

In the study, Rai’s group looked at data that tracked al­most 224,000 Swedes liv­ing in a par­tic­u­lar county be­tween 2001 and 2011. A to­tal of 4,073 had been di­ag­nosed with an autism spec­trum dis­or­der. Track­ing the par­tic­i­pants’ men­tal health, the study found that by their mid-to-late 20s, 19.8 per cent of peo­ple with autism had a his­tory of de­pres­sion, com­pared to just six per cent of those in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

Not all of the in­crease in risk for de­pres­sion was caused by ge­net­ics, Rai’s group added, be­cause peo­ple with autism still had dou­ble the odds for de­pres­sion com­pared to a full sib­ling who did not have the dis­or­der. That sug­gests that some­thing other than DNA – per­haps the stress of liv­ing with autism – may play a role in de­pres­sion risk. The find­ing that autism with­out in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity car­ried higher odds for de­pres­sion high­lights the need for ear­lier di­ag­no­sis, the re­searchers said.

“Many in­di­vid­u­als with autism spec­trum dis­or­der, es­pe­cially those with­out cog­ni­tive im­pair­ments, re­ceive a de­layed di­ag­no­sis, of­ten af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing other psy­chi­atric prob­lems,” the study authors wrote. That can take a big psy­cho­log­i­cal toll, per­haps con­tribut­ing to de­pres­sion risk, Rai’s team sug­gested.

“In­di­vid­u­als re­ceiv­ing a di­ag­no­sis of autism spec­trum dis­or­der later in life of­ten re­port long-stand­ing stress in re­la­tion to so­cial iso­la­tion, bul­ly­ing, ex­clu­sion, and the knowl­edge they are dif­fer­ent with­out the ex­plana­tory frame­work of (a di­ag­no­sis of) autism spec­trum dis­or­der,” the re­searchers pointed out. So, an early di­ag­no­sis could help lower de­pres­sion risk, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors the­o­rized, by giv­ing young peo­ple with autism a con­text in which to bet­ter un­der­stand their “dif­fer­ence” and how to deal with it.

Dr Peng Pang di­rects child and ado­les­cent psy­chi­a­try at Staten Is­land Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal in New York City. Pang said the new study “un­der­scores the pub­lic health sig­nif­i­cance of de­pres­sion in autism spec­trum dis­or­ders, and should prompt providers and care­givers to screen for and more ac­tively treat de­pres­sion in this pop­u­la­tion.” Peng also be­lieves more re­search is needed to tease out the ex­pe­ri­ences and stig­mas that may con­tribute to de­pres­sion in young peo­ple with autism.

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