Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Depression and the Autism Spectrum

Depression and the Autism Spectrum

Depression and antidepressants are big news this week with Newsweek’s February 9, 2010 story by Sharon Begley, “The Depressing News About Antidepressants: Studies suggest that the popular drugs are no more effective than a placebo. In fact, they may be worse.” (Sharon Begley also wrote the book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, which I discussed in an earlier post.)The article goes on to explain the placebo effect, and what analysis of numerous studies on antidepressants, both those published and not published are showing about the effect of the drugs, and the often superior results of psychotherapy.

Depression is a concern for many on the Autism Spectrum, with almost a third of individuals with autism and Asperger’s also dealing with depression. (Mohammad Ghaziuddin’s Mental Health Aspects of Autism and Asperger Syndrome has a good review on this topic if you’re looking for details.) Social isolation, difficulty managing relationships, chronic stress from sensory issues, and practical matters like underemployment can all be contributing factors. For more info, you can find an earlier article I wrote on "Depression with Asperger's Syndrome and Autism".

Dr. Michael Yapko, a Clinical Psychologist and MFT, has published and spoken extensively on the ideas that depression is the result of many lifestyle  and social choices and curing depression does not come from a pill. He is the author of Depression Is Contagious, which I haven’t yet read, but it’s in my stack of books. You can hear an interview of Dr. Yapko, where he discusses his book and theories on the importance of social connections and good problem solving skills in managing depression.

Please note: If you’re currently taking antidepressants and these articles are concerning to you, don’t just stop taking them. Please talk to your prescribing physician. It can be very dangerous to stop taking any prescribed medication, or to alter the dose, and any changes to medications should be made under a doctor’s supervision.


  1. Maybe it's just placebo effect, IDK, but whatever it is, it seems to work for me. Even if the tablets are nothing more than a psychological token. But I do know that I was extremely cynical about the idea until I was forced to take them as a condition of being signed off as fit to return to work by my doctor following an incident that had me sent home, and off site for weeks due to stress/anxiety/depression/anger etc. After the initial transition period... they actually worked. Not brilliantly, and I've since moved through several others in order to find some that at least settle my mood and take the edge off the anxiety without leaving me a *completely* hopeless shell of a man, but it was there. I was able to function far better in situations that previously had me freaking out or locking up... and moreover, I could still feel the instinctive, knee jerk, physiological effects the stress was having on my *body*, the hindbrain reactions, but my higher consciousness, everything in the forebrain was actually still operating somewhere in the region of correctly instead of pretty much shutting down. To the point where I could still think and talk fairly straight, even though my legs were too unsteady to hold me up, when before the presence of mind would have flown far before reaching that phsyical point.

    Still haven't hit the promised nirvana where I'm bouncing off the ceiling when I walk into the doctor's office, and I've had some dark patches over the last few days (though the worst of them probably coincide with accidentally missing a dose), but there's a good chance I'd be dead by now without either the medicinal effect, or the placebo effect they're a token for.