Tackling bullying could help reduce depression in autistic teens

June 19, 2018, University of Bristol
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Teenagers with difficulties in social communication, including autism have higher rates of depressive symptoms, especially if they are being bullied.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, using questionnaire, clinic and genetic information on 6091 young people from the Children of the 90s longitudinal study, found that children with and those with had more symptoms of depression when they were 10 years old than their peers and that this continued at least up to the age of 18.

Children with difficulties in social communication were also more likely to have a diagnosis of depression at 18 and the findings suggest an increased risk for those who suffered from bullying. The researchers did not find any link between having higher genetic tendencies towards autism and depressive symptoms.

Dr. Dheeraj Rai, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Centre for Academic Mental Health said: "We still know very little about why problems are common in autism and what could be done to address them.

"Thanks to the wealth of data collected within the Children of the 90s study, we tracked the development of depressive symptoms in children with autism and autistic features up to the age of 18 years.

"We found that these children have more depressive symptoms than their peers at age 10 and these continue through adolescence to age 18, especially in who reported being bullied.

"More research needs to be done to understand other pathways contributing to the risk of depression in autism across the life course, but these findings suggest that focusing on the role of traumatic experiences such as bullying and interventions targeting these, could be important and may have the potential to make a real difference to the wellbeing of autistic people."

Alan Emond, Professor of Child Health at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Bristol added: "Bullying can be detrimental to anyone's mental , but young people with social communication difficulties and other autistic traits seem to be particularly vulnerable. To protect and a whole school approach is needed to prevent bullying, coupled with targeted support for vulnerable individuals."

Dr. James Cusack, Director of Science at Autistica, the charity for autism research, said: "Autistic people and families have told us that mental health is their top priority for research. This is not surprising as we know autistic people experience high rates of chronic which lead to tragically high rates of suicide. Yet, our knowledge of autism and depression has remained poor.

"This excellent study tells us that symptoms of depression are elevated in autistic adolescents. The authors found that it was bullying rather than genetic differences which drove an increase in in autistic people.

"We now urgently need to carefully understand bullying and other traumatic experiences in autistic people as we're now finding they can have a devastating impact.

"As the UK's autism research charity, we will be working hard to ensure that further research on priority areas like this is supported. If we can improve the mental health of autistic people we can go a long way to ensuring they can live the long, healthy, happy life they deserve."

Explore further: Better tools needed to diagnose depression in people with autism

More information: Association of Autistic Traits with Depression from Childhood to Age 18 Years by Dheeraj Rai, Iryna Culpin, Hein Heuvelman, Cecilia Magnusson, Peter Carpenter, Hannah J Jones, Alan Emond, Stanley Zammit, Jean Golding and Rebecca M Pearson published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Related Stories

Better tools needed to diagnose depression in people with autism

February 16, 2018
Autistic adults are not being effectively diagnosed with depression due to a lack of asessment tools, a new study has found.

Mental health services are failing young autistic people

June 26, 2017
More and more is being done to raise awareness of mental health problems at a public and policy level, and understandably so. One in six adults in the UK has a common mental health condition, and one in 20 adults has thought ...

Social communication difficulties are linked to increased risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior

May 1, 2018
Children who have difficulties with social communication have a higher risk of self-harm with suicidal intent by the age of 16 years compared to those without, reports a new study published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal ...

Autistic people at greater risk of becoming homeless – new research

June 12, 2018
Tony had lived on the streets for 45 years, and in recent years had become increasingly physically unwell. Despite this he refused all offers of help, and it became clear to his support workers that he found social engagement ...

Autism is not linked to eating fish in pregnacy

May 21, 2018
A major study examining the fish-eating habits of pregnant women has found that they are not linked to autism or autistic traits in their children.

Autism screening tool may not pick up women with the condition

May 23, 2018
Diagnosing autism is expensive and time consuming, so a screening tool is used to filter out those people who are unlikely to be diagnosed as autistic. This is all well and good, but our latest research suggests that a widely ...

Recommended for you

Does air pollution raise autism risk?

November 19, 2018
Traffic-related air pollution may play a role in development of autism, new research suggests.

Mutation that causes autism and intellectual disability makes brain less flexible

November 19, 2018
About 1 percent of patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability have a mutation in a gene called SETD5. Scientists have now discovered what happens on a molecular level when the gene is mutated ...

Music improves social communication in autistic children

November 5, 2018
Engaging in musical activities such as singing and playing instruments in one-on-one therapy can improve autistic children's social communication skills, improve their family's quality of life, as well as increase brain connectivity ...

Unraveling a genetic network linked to autism

November 2, 2018
Donnelly Centre researchers have uncovered a genetic network linked to autism. The findings, described in the journal Molecular Cell, will facilitate developing new therapies for this common neurological disorder.

Study links gene mutation to neurodevelopmental disorders

November 2, 2018
A new model created by UCLA scientists reveals how the alteration of a specific gene increases the risk for neurodevelopmental problems in mice. When the researchers mutated the gene, it produced symptoms at specific ages ...

Common medications taken during pregnancy are not associated with risk for autism

October 31, 2018
Babies exposed in the womb to the majority of medications that target neurotransmitter systems, including typical targets of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, are not any more likely to develop autism than non-exposed ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.