Depression is more than three times as common among adults with autism as it is in the general population, according to new work. And those with average or above intelligence are more likely to be depressed than those with low intellectual ability.
The study found that about 20 percent of autistic people have a diagnosis of depression, compared with 6 percent of the general population.
The findings are based on data from a large Swedish cohort, but they are likely to apply more broadly. A large 2015 study in the United States likewise reported that 26 percent of people with autism have a depression diagnosis, compared with 10 percent in the general population. A smaller study that same year estimated that 43 percent of autistic people have depression.
“It highlights that we need to do much more work in this area,” says Dheeraj Rai, lead researcher and consultant senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. “Many people tell us the problems they have in relation to depression and anxiety and other common mental health problems can be even more disabling than the core features of autism.”
The reason for depression’s high prevalence in people with autism is unclear, but it is likely to include genetic and environmental factors.
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