Doctoral student Tove Lugnegård has shown in her thesis published earlier this year that mood disorders and anxiety disorders are very common among young adults with Asperger syndrome. Despite this, there has been little research into this issue.
People with Asperger’s or autism may face increased stress, greater difficulty with relationships, difficulty managing their own emotions, and often fewer skills for dealing with these problems.
Lugnegård’s study through the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden found that around 70% of the young adults with Asperger Syndrome interviewed reported at least one previous episode of depression, and up to 50 % had had repeated episodes.
“The results mean that it’s important that psychiatric care staff keep an eye open for the symptoms of depression in young adults with autism spectrum disorders,” says Lugnegård. “This goes for both clinics that carry out assessments for autism spectrum disorders, and for general psychiatric care. Depression and anxiety can be more difficult to detect in people with autism spectrum because their facial expressions and body language are often not as easy to read, and because they may have difficulties in describing emotions. It’s also important to find out more about how to prevent depression among people with autism spectrum.”
A review in the United Kingdom looked at the prevalence, presentation, treatment and assessment of depression in autism and Asperger syndrome. The review pointed out diagnostic difficulties when considering depression in autism and Asperger syndrome, as the characteristics of these disorders, such as social withdrawal and appetite and sleep disturbance, are also core symptoms of depression. Impaired verbal and non-verbal communication can also mask the symptoms of depression.
There is a clear need to develop specific tools both for diagnostic purposes and for measurement of depression in autism and Asperger syndrome in order to help alleviate the distress caused by this treatable illness.