This week, I’m supporting UK research charity Autistica who are launching a campaign to support their work in mental health in autism. They’re funding science to discover the treatments and interventions that can help autistic people to live happier lives.
Mental health problems have a devastating effect in autistic people and the problems start early. 70% of children with autism have a mental health problem and 79% of autistic adults will have a mental health problem (this link gives access to full published research paper) e.g. bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia or ADHD at some point during adulthood. Autistic adults with no intellectual disability are over nine times more likely to kill themselves than the rest of us, with two thirds experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The reasons are unknown but it’s suspected that a combination of environmental and genetic factors are the cause. They may be triggered by social exclusion, bullying and experiencing stigma; all of which are extremely common in autism.
We are starting to know what mental health treatments are effective for people without autism but there has been very little research into mental health problems in autistic people. Currently there are no autism-specific treatments. When we think about the common lifelines for the general population – talking therapies, or even helplines, you can understand that for those with autism – by its very nature a communication disorder – we will need to approach intervention very differently. There are a number of approaches that may help, but they all need further investigation.
Mental health has taken a back seat in autism yet, in a recent consultation, individuals and families reported that mental health problems are the biggest challenge that they face day to day. They say that it’s not the autism itself that’s the problem, but the anxiety and depression that comes with it that stops them living life to the full.
Autistica is funding groundbreaking work at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, looking for chemical imbalances in the brains of autistic individuals and developing a revolutionary digital tool to help people self-manage their anxiety. But they need support to be able to fund the work that so many desperately need.
Autistica’s #LittleLifesaver campaign is being fronted by the one and only Ruby Wax. The charity is asking the public to take part online by sharing images on social media of that person, thing or place that helps get them (or their children) through the day – their #LittleLifesaver. Because sometimes it can be the smallest things that make the biggest difference. For me it’s roller skating, which explains the selfie at the top of this page!
The campaign will run all week, so please join in any way you can. Autistica will be sharing stats and stories, so follow them (@AutisticaUK) and the hashtag #LittleLifesaver to keep up with the campaign. Support them to understand autism better so that we can give autistic people the chance to live the long, healthy and happy lives that they deserve.