Aspergers and Depression
Aspergers and depression co-exist for many people on the autism spectrum.
Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem.
David D. Burns
What do Hamid Karzai (president of Aghanistan), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austrian composer), Princess Diana (past princess of Wales) and Abraham Lincoln (past American president) all have in common?
They all suffered from bouts of clinical depression.
I don’t know whether Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison have suffered from clinical depression, but they have talked about dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety.
What is Depression?
Here are some symptoms of depression, from the medical site, WebMd.
- difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- fatigue and decreased energy
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- irritability, restlessness
- loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- overeating or appetite loss
- persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
According to mental health guidelines, you must experience a certain number of these symptoms concurrently over a two-week period in order to be diagnosed with clinical depression.
Don’t ever self-diagnose, but you may want to check out these online depression tests as a preliminary assessment of your symptoms. If you score in the significant range for these tests, it will be an indication for your to go to a primary care doctor or psychiatrist for further professional help.
Here’s a depression health check from WebMD.
And here’s a depression screening tool from the Mayo Clinic.
World Statistics About Depression
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability and was the 4th leading contributor to the global burden of disease in 2000. It’s estimated that depression may become the 2nd leading contributor to the global burden of disease by the year 2020!
Depression occurs in persons of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.
Here are some other depression statistics and facts:
- Depression is common, affecting about 121 million people worldwide.
- Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide.
- Depression is reliably diagnosed and treated in primary care.
- Fewer than 25 % of those affected have access to effective treatments.
What Does Depression Have To Do With Aspergers?
Depression is one of the top co-morbid conditions (a condition that can develop along with) of Aspergers syndrome.
Why is this? I’m not sure, from a scientific standpoint.
But here are some thoughts from people with Aspergers from some of the forums I take part in:
I find that I am mostly depressed at times due to social deficiencies. There have been many moments in my life where I have achieved powerful connexions with others, yet for the most part, I still feel alone. I do not know how to carry a relationship further beyond certain kinds of interactions.
It’s possible that sensory overwhelm can cause stress on an Aspie’s system over time, eventually leading to depressed mood. I remember reading Temple Grandin’s autobiography: she invented a ‘squeeze’ machine that allowed her to calm herself through a full body squeeze in that device.
Depression Solutions for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Go To A Doctor
Go to your primary care physician or local walk in clinic. You’ll want to get a full physical exam to rule out any medical conditions that could be mimicking depression. If your doctor diagnoses you with depression, s/he will most likely suggest the following:
Aspergers and medication meets with mixed reviews. An informal poll of many people with Aspergers asked this question: ”If you take anti depressive medication, on a scale of 0-4 how good does it work? (on the scale 5 equaled: ’my life is perfect, I’m able to tackle AS/autism’)”
31 participants responded as follows:
5 – my life is perfect, I’m able to tackle AS /autism
9% [ 3 ]
25% [ 8 ]
19% [ 6 ]
19% [ 6 ]
25% [ 8 ]
Total Votes : 31
Referral to A Mental Health Professional
There will be a couple of possibilities. Either you will continue to take the antidepressant medication and see how that works in curbing the depressive symptoms, or your primary care physician may refer you to a medical doctor who specializes in prescribing medication specifically for psychiatric conditions. This specialist is known as a psychiatrist.
In addition to seeing a psychiatrist, you may be referred to a counselor, social worker, or psychologist who will hopefully be trained in cognitive behavior therapy, a form of talk therapy researched to be very effective in stabilizing and managing depression.
(If you’d like to know more about cognitive therapy, and how it can specifically benefit people with Aspergers, I urge you to pick up a copy of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Asperger Syndrome (Guides to Individualized Evidence-Based Treatment) .
And here is an in-depth article about cognitive behavior therapy from Psych Central.
Note: If you do not have private healthcare insurance, you should go on the internet, and Google the term, “community mental health,” to get access to free or sliding scale community mental health services.
Exercise is an extremely helpful way to fight and manage depression. Start small: just walk outside 5 minutes a day. If you have a dog, take him around the block. Walk, swim, or bike. But get moving!
Exercising Your Way to Better Mental Health, by Leigh, is a great resource that shows you how you can manage depression through a simple exercise program.
When you become clinically depressed, you may lose motivation and interest in doing even the simplest of tasks. So it becomes critical that you schedule your day with a structure.
Begin by scheduling one or two pleasurable activities. Here is a list of pleasurable activities to choose from. Make sure that the activities you choose are in line with your own personal values. Once you have constructed your own list, pick just one thing for the day, and make sure that you do that thing. Fake it until you make it! In other words, even if you don’t “feel” like doing it, just act anyway. You’ll need to act your way into feeling better.
Second, schedule one or two mastery activities. These are activities you know you need to start doing as a responsible adult: e.g. : doing your laundry, getting up on time, taking a shower, getting dressed, getting exercise, cleaning the house, or paying bills.
Here’s an article excerpted from a workbook I use when working with depressed clients. The workbook, called Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, contains a self directed program that will take you step by step through what you need to do to manage your depression.
Community and Relationships
It’s so important to reach out when you are feeling depressed. This may be one of the most challenging things to do, because it’s precisely in the middle of a depressive episode when we often just want to curl up in our shell and isolate from everyone and everything.
I urge you to read my article about Aspergers support groups for ways to connect with others both online and offline. If you have friends or family who have a hard time understanding what clinical depression is, share this article with them. You may also want to invite them to come with you to an individual therapy session, so that the doctor or therapist can educate them about depression and how they can best support you.
P.S. An important note about suicidal thoughts or feelings. If you or someone you know is having these thoughts or feelings, do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) — or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).
photo credit: rogerimp
I’d love to hear your comments about Aspergers and depression The lines are open! Please comment below.
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Coping with Depression: A Guide to What Works for Patients, Carers, and Professionals