Depression can hit every person of every age, race, gender, and lifestyle. There is still enough stigma around mental illness challenges that many people tend to hide their issues when facing depression. That’s hard enough as it is. But when you couple that with the communication challenges often involved with Aspergers and autism, it gets even worse.
What Is Depression?
We all get sad. It’s a normal state. We get sad if our store runs out of our favorite food or if our favorite TV show is pre-empted by something else. We get sad if a friend is too busy to see us.
But depression is something more serious.
Depression is defined as going on for more than two weeks straight. It involves sleep issues – either not being able to sleep or not wanting to get out of bed. It involves loss of energy. Large changes in appetite / weight, either growing or shrinking. Difficulty thinking clearly. A focus on death or suicide.
You can see how these might pose challenges for the autistic community. If someone is unable to communicate well, we can’t know if they are thinking about death or suicide. If someone already struggles to sleep well, we might not even notice a change in that pattern. If someone has gastrointestinal challenges every day, a further reduction in appetite doesn’t stand out much.
Also, rates of depression are higher in people who are facing life challenges. 11.3% of adults who are two or more races report having serious depression issues. That’s more than double the rate for all men. If a person does not “fit in smoothly” with society, every day can pose challenges to overcome. That is absolutely true for many people on the autism spectrum. If every single day puts you up against hurdles because of sensory issues, social interaction issues, and more, it can wear you down. It can make you feel like just giving up, because you feel you “don’t belong”.
But then the problem is you’re challenged at communicating this. You’re not comfortable talking about it. Others around you might not notice. They just figure you’re being your usual odd, quirky self and this is another stage. So you fall deeper into the depression and it gets even harder to get out.
Dealing With Depression in Autism and Asperger’s
There are two aspects of this – from within and from without.
The person suffering from the depression needs to understand that this is a challenge most humans go through at some point. It’s a normal way of coping and one that can be helped. If you had a cold you’d take cold medicine to get through it. If you have depression you should seek help to get through it, so you can feel better.
I know communication is hard. And when you’re depressed, it’s even harder to build up the energy to do it. But take a deep breath, marshal your strength, and talk with someone you trust. Just talk about how you feel. Get some support.
If you’re on the outside – if you’re close to someone on the spectrum and you think they might be depressed – be gentle and supportive. They are having a lot of issues right now. Be there for them. Listen. Listening is the most important part. Help them communicate better. Be non-judgmental. Hear their concerns.
Depression can’t be “fixed” with a happy movie or a walk in the woods. But it can slowly be eased. Sometimes there is a chemical imbalance causing it. Slowly ease into checking that out, if the gentle talks and walks don’t seem to be helping. But do take it seriously. Don’t let it continue to slide into darker areas.
I’m not a doctor. I’m just a person who has dealt with this issue before. If things seem to be getting serious, do talk with a doctor.