Mental Health and Autism

There is a lot written about mental health and autism and numerous surveys and research on the subject.

Yet in a survey by AMASE 42% of respondents said that they felt that they were not listened to or taken seriously, 52% said they had negative experiences when accessing services and 36% said they felt that practitioners had inadequate autism knowledge.

Research from MIND identified that all too often the complex relationship between mental health and autism is misunderstood with the focus being on the diagnosis of one to the exclusion of the other. This fails to recognise the correlation between the two.

The MIND research also highlighted that about 70% of people with ASC are at risk of suffering from depression and severe anxiety. It identified that though the diagnosis of ASC helps the individual to make sense of things and understand their situation, specific support that understood both aspects, ASC and mental health, was still severely lacking. Mental health issues often start to appear in adolescence but when these issues go unaddressed they can accumulate across a lifetime leading to them having a serious impact on the individual.

Anxiety is a common challenge experienced by people with ASC and can have a significant impact on daily living. Anxiety around social interaction and the risk of potential rejection in social situations can lead to social isolation and a fear of asking for help, limit self-expression, even limiting activities such as going shopping for food, eating in public, using toilet facilities away from home, etc. Hyper or hypo sensitivities can lead to the individual avoiding situations where they may be uncomfortable, and they may be very anxious that they won’t be able to cope. Individuals may worry about the future or the wider world, especially when the media bombards us with constantly negative and sensationalised stories.

This anxiety then starts to impact on things like confidence and self-esteem leading to feelings of inadequacy and failure. In turn this can prevent an individual from moving forward and trying new things or inhibit their ability to cope with change. All too often these issues are ignored, brushed aside or just seen as being a “normal” part of ASC. This anxiety is real and often crippling for the individual, nobody should have to “suffer” from it. It shouldn’t be “normalised” in the context of ASC. It can cause very real physical symptoms just as disrupting sleep, stomach upsets, headaches, and in the worst cases lead to breakdown, self-harm and even suicide.

There urgently needs to be greater awareness of these issues for those working in adolescent and adult mental health settings. GPs and other health professionals need to recognise the nature of mental health issues for people with ASC and not just see them as an expected or inevitable feature of ASC.  Individuals and families need support to recognise and understand mental health in the context of ASC and fast referral routes need to be available if these issues occur.

One of the great myths about Autism is that people think that individuals don’t want or even require social interaction. This, most often, could not be further from the truth. Equally most support is focussed on the negative aspects of autism without considering the strengths which can be utilised to develop safe social relationships based on shared interests, goals and aspirations. At I AM our social and leisure activities are a key part of what we do. We listen to what our members want and have activities that people want to participate in which are shared with others with similar interests, goals and aspirations. Our activities provide a safe space for individuals to engage in social interaction without fear of being judged. They also provide an opportunity for peer to peer support systems to facilitate the sharing of experiences and strategies that might be helpful.

We also recognise that for some individuals managing anxiety is a journey and through our one to one support and outreach services we support individuals on this journey. Whether the goals are big or small our support puts the individual at the centre of it for however long it takes.

To find out more contact us at admin@i-am-autism.org.uk or give us a call on 0161 866 8483