Julia Alsop 

Oxford

CN: Autism, suicide, depression,

anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, bullying

 

The number of people with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) dealing with mental health issues at some point stands at 70%, which is 30% higher than the population average. A 2016 study has also indicated that around 66% of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome have contemplated suicide. Yet the image of the sparse House of Commons during the recent discussions on Mental Health and Autism demonstrates the perceived lack of concern for the gravity of the effects of mental health conditions on the lives of people with ASD.

 

“A 2016 study has also indicated that around 66% of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome have contemplated suicide”

 

Arguably, this is related to a wider problem with the treatment of mental health conditions of people with physical, learning and social disabilities. Almost a third of people with physical disabilities, up to 40% of those with learning disabilities, and around 70% of youth with autism are thought to also deal with a mental health disability. Depression and anxiety levels are also indicated to be twice as high during the late teens. Yet it seems that mental health conditions are sometimes treated as a secondary diagnosis, treated by treating the disability, rather than an illness in its own right. Or even worse, not considered to be interconnected at all to people’s other disabilities.

With poor treatment and lacking of understanding of disability, people with certain needs or requirements relating to their disability often become more socially isolated. Isolation can be evident in a visual way– such as building an inaccessible building for social events which limits those with mobility disabilities, but also more implicitly, for example, if a child with ASD experiences rejection from peers (notably, people with ASD are nearly twice as likely to be bullied as peers without).

 

“With poor treatment and lacking of understanding of disability, people with certain needs or requirements relating to their disability often become more socially isolated”

 

It is thought that possible factors that lead to mental health conditions within people with ASD are the repercussions associated with possible social isolation, alongside increased possibilities of bullying, stress associated with navigating a world that is not always inclusive of neurodiversity, and possible genetic predisposition. This, amongst other reasons, can make people vulnerable or cause stress. This also means that there are a number of factors that come into play when providing effective and sufficient treatment to treat mental health conditions in people with ASD. It is known that the most common conditions to affect people with ASD are anxiety disorders (up to 40%), eating disorders and depression.

Diagnosing or treating mental health for people with ASD can be difficult; histories of social difficulties can negatively impact self-esteem meaning that many people are likely to experience more anxiety about talking about mental health, and may also struggle to describe their symptoms. Equally, certain disorders may be confused for autism. For example, the compulsive behaviours of OCD may appear to be the manifestations of repetitive behaviour common on the autistic spectrum. Most people suffering from depression or anxiety can struggle to share their feelings but, if a person also has ASD, it can be harder to personally label these feelings and communicate the concerns related to them.

 

“If people’s lives are not a priority to the policy-makers, than people will not feel that their lives aren’t considered as important”

 

Of course, it is important to also remember than it is a condition on a spectrum, which can further complicate matters – one person on the autistic spectrum may be able to offer observations of mental health symptoms more readily than another. There is not one ‘fits all’ method of diagnosing and treating mental health from person to person, and so it is a necessity to have multifaceted support and an understanding of disabilities such as ASD, such that people feel less isolated and can have a support network for the mental health. This is why the conversations are needed – between communities, individual people, and most certainly in the House of Commons. If people’s lives are not a priority to the policy-makers, than people will not feel that their lives aren’t considered as important.

The more we overlook people – or hold discussions about their mental health where the House of Commons is basically empty – the further we isolate. When you are experiencing mental health problems and feel underrepresented or feel that those responsible for the policy surrounding your treatment do not seem concerned, it is hard to also feel that you are deserving of the treatment yourself.

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