Anxiety, Depression, and Autism
Mental illness affects more of us than we’ll ever know, but experts estimate that something like one in five adults lives with a mental illness of one form or another. Many of us even experience more than one at a time, in the form of comorbidities.
Anxiety and depression are among many kindred forms of mental illness that can occur simultaneously. When this happens, it can be difficult to find healthy coping strategies, especially when managing difficulties with autism as well. All these conditions connect and draw from one another but with the right resources, you can better avoid a downward spiral.
Understand the connection, then consider these approaches to managing your mental health and self-love in the midst of everything else that’s going on in the world.
The Connection Between Anxiety, Depression, and Autism
The bond between anxiety, depression, and autism runs deep. In fact, having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) automatically puts you at a statistically greater risk for depression and anxiety. There could be any number of reasons why this might be the case, but the connection is clear.
Anxiety in particular is autism’s most common comorbid condition and treating it is essential when managing a healthy lifestyle. Meanwhile, depression is about four times more likely to affect individuals living with autism. These comorbidities interact with one another over the course of a lifetime, creating dangers that are important for anyone with these conditions or who loves someone who has them to understand and recognize.
The unfortunate truth is that autism itself can create opportunities for anxiety and depression to gain footholds in our lives. This can occur in part because of the sense of distance and otherness individuals with autism can experience in the course of growing up and learning to manage relationships with other people. But the link between anxiety, depression, and autism likely goes deeper than environmental conditions. One meta-analysis of 66 studies showed that youths living with autism have much higher rates of experiencing major depression than their neurotypical counterparts. These rates only go up with intelligence and age.
This shows that there is something to these neurological conditions that make the presence of one more likely to indicate the presence of others. Those with autism have to take extra care in this way, managing risk factors with coping mechanisms and healthy treatment strategies. Because mental illness has a unique ability to drain the fun and flavor out of life, day-to-day routines can feel exceptionally challenging not just for those with autism but for their families as well.
So with the connection between comorbid mental health issues in mind, you can take the steps now to prepare yourself or your family for managing risks and challenges effectively.
Useful Ways for Approaching Mental Health Struggles
Anyone who has experienced depression and anxiety understands the negative effects these illnesses can have on your day-to-day life. Depression and anxiety can make it difficult to eat, sleep, and function on a healthy level. In turn, all of these difficulties can make living with autism more of a challenge.
Because for many, a mental illness like anxiety can cause stress even for someone that is trying to relax. In fact, relaxation-induced anxiety is a problem for an estimated 17%-53% of adults. This means that the act of getting some rest alone is enough to trigger worry in millions of people, a reaction that creates a spiral of negatives that affect waking life.
Meanwhile, the sleep-pain-depression cycle is one of the most troublesome effects of comorbidities that individuals with autism experience. This cycle is caused by anxiety creating a lack of sleep, which develops into depression, which then can develop into chronic pain. Roughly 70 million adults in the U.S. alone develop sleep issues that can lead to such a cycle.
Since children with autism are potentially twice as likely to experience chronic pain than neurotypical peers, approaching treatment for chronic mental health comorbidities is even more essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. With that said, here are some tips for approaching and treating mental health comorbidities with success for you or your loved ones:
- Develop a healthy cycle of sleep preparation, complete with good sleep hygiene and a consistent routine.
- Try cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based treatments to help you stay in the moment and reject patterns of unhealthy thoughts.
- Speak to your care providers about anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications that can help you balance your mental health.
- Practice new habits like expressive writing before bedtime to express your thoughts and concerns without giving in to a troublesome mental cycle.
- Work with medical professionals to develop healthier responses to stimuli and learn what stressors you can cut out of your life.
Every individual and mental illness experience is different. However, these strategies can help just about anyone to some extent when managing interacting mental illnesses that add challenges to life. A good routine, while it might not be a cure, can at least make a world of difference. Then, the help of medical professions, the right balance of meds, and fulfilling habits can all act to mitigate problematic cycles.
Striving for Better Mental Health
For anyone living with autism, it is OK to worry about the unique risks and challenges you face. The unfortunate reality is that ASD puts an individual at greater liability for other dangerous mental health conditions. The most important thing you can do is be aware of this and prepared with ways you might approach treating your mental health.
These strategies will help you find the right routine and resources when the time comes. In turn, you can better avoid the troublesome challenges that come from living with anxiety, depression, and anxiety.
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