A recent study conducted by researchers at UCL has uncovered significant disparities in access to appropriate mental health care for autistic adults. The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, revealed that despite being more likely to experience anxiety or depression compared to the general population, autistic individuals have limited access to evidence-based psychological therapies.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling for autistic individuals struggling with their mental health. However, the study aimed to investigate whether these treatments available through the NHS are beneficial for autistic adults who require them.
The researchers analyzed therapy outcomes for 8,761 autistic adults who attended NHS Talking Therapies for Anxiety and Depression services between 2012 and 2019. They found that, on average, autistic adults experienced a decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms following therapy. However, when compared to nearly two million individuals without an autism diagnosis, the outcomes for autistic individuals were poorer.
Lead author Celine El Baou emphasized that while therapies offered in primary care may be beneficial for autistic individuals, outcomes were worse for this population, indicating under-representation in mental health services. The study couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasons for these disparities, but the authors suspect that it may be due to barriers faced by autistic individuals in accessing therapy and the lack of appropriate adaptations for neurodiversity.
As a result of their findings, the research team is calling for improved accessibility of mental health care services for autistic people. They believe that adequate adaptations need to be made in therapy provided in primary care to address the unique needs of autistic individuals.
Autism is characterized by specific experiences in social communication and interaction, alongside specialized interests, behaviors, and/or sensory sensitivities. Many autistic individuals require adjustments to ensure equal access to healthcare, employment, and local authority support.
While this study focused on those with a formal diagnosis of autism in their medical records, it sheds light on the need for better mental health support for the broader autistic population. The research has prompted the National Autistic Society to advocate for more studies in this under-researched area and urge immediate action to ensure effective mental health services for autistic individuals.
Q: What did the study reveal about mental health care for autistic adults?
A: The study found that autistic adults have poorer access to appropriate mental health care despite experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to the general population.
Q: What therapies are recommended for autistic individuals struggling with their mental health?
A: The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends evidence-based psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling.
Q: What did the outcomes of the study show?
A: The study revealed that, on average, autistic adults experienced a decrease in anxiety and depression symptoms following therapy. However, outcomes were poorer for autistic individuals compared to those without an autism diagnosis.
Q: What barriers might autistic individuals face in accessing mental health care?
A: The study suggests that barriers such as difficulties in adapting therapy for neurodiversity, including differences in thinking style, sensory sensitivities, or the need for predictability, may make it challenging for autistic individuals to access appropriate care.
Q: What is the significance of this research?
A: The study highlights the need for improved accessibility and adaptations in mental health care services to better address the unique needs of autistic individuals. It underscores the importance of providing effective and accessible therapy for this population.