Mental health, autism and learning disability

People with autism or a learning disability (or both) are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population.

This can be because those of us with autism or a learning disability often have access to fewer resources and support to help develop coping skills, can experience more negative life events, and face stigma and discrimination from people and services as a result of a disability. Biology and genetics may also increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.

However, the mental health of people with autism or a learning disability (or both) is often overlooked or ignored. That’s why it’s really important that the services people with autism and learning disabilities use, are able to properly identify mental health problems so people can get the right support at the right time.   

And once a mental health problem has been identified, it's important that commissioners, service providers and staff offer inclusive services and support that cater for the needs of people with both autism, a learning disability and a mental health problem.

Guidance for professionals

Evidence from a two-year project with local Minds in Aberystwyth, Leeds and Plymouth (completed in 2015), highlighted that people with autistic are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems. We found that existing services tend to treat people either for their autism - or for their mental health problems, while failing to recognise the complex dynamic between the two.

With few mental health services providing specialist support for adults with autism in the UK, there is a great need to develop mental health services able to meet their needs in an appropriate and respectful way.

This is why we have been working with our local Minds and other partners to produce practical guidance for health and social care professionals to make sure that those of us on the autism spectrum get genuine person-centred support.

Download the guidance for practitioners and providers to help support people living with autism spectrum disorder and mental health problems [PDF 1.28MB].

 

I have experienced services that treat mental health and autism as completely separate issues and both services seem fearful of people with the other condition.

Lucy's story

Lucy talks about living with a mental health problem and autism in this video. Lucy says she wants support that sees her "as a whole person and not just as a collection of diagnoses".

We genuinely believe our work is a step in the right direction, but more needs to happen, and change can only achieved if we work together.

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