Autistic people experience higher rates of depression than those without autism. They may also experience different symptoms and require adapted forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Autism and depression are distinct conditions that can co-occur in some individuals. Autistic people have a higher risk for depression and may be more likely to experience symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness and social withdrawal.

Treatment for depression is similar for autistic people and those without autism. However, healthcare professionals may modify behavioral therapy methods to account for different communication and thinking styles in autistic people.

This article will explore the relationship between autism and depression, the symptoms of depression, and treatment options.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that depression affects almost 5% of United States adults. It is more common in people with other mental or neurological conditions, including autism.

A 2019 review of 66 studies found that around 14% of autistic people will experience depression at some point in their lives. They found that the risk of depression increased with age in autistic people.

This study also suggests autistic people are almost four times more likely to experience depression than those without autism.

Depression causes a range of symptoms that commonly include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • frustration and irritability
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • tiredness and lethargy
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • sleep problems
  • changes in weight and appetite
  • headaches and pains around the body
  • suicidal thoughts

Learn more about common signs and symptoms of depression.

Autistic people and depression may experience certain symptoms more frequently. For example, autistic individuals may be more likely than those without the condition to experience the following:

  • feelings of hopelessness
  • physical symptoms, such as tiredness
  • obsessive behaviors
  • social withdrawal
  • aggression
  • self-harm
  • sleep problems

The causes of depression are unclear, including in autistic people. Experts believe depression is usually the result of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

For example, risk factors for depression can include a family history of mental illness, trauma, and physical illness.

Autistic people may have certain risk factors that increase their risk of depression.

For example, some autistic individuals have above-average attention to detail. Some experts think this could cause an autistic person to overthink a negative emotion or act, increasing the risk of depression.

There are many types of treatments for depression, which can include psychotherapy, medications, or both.

The types of treatment that may benefit autistic people with depression are similar to those for someone without autism.


Autistic people may receive therapy to help with depressive symptoms. However, these therapeutic methods may require some modifications to account for differences in thinking, communication, and behavior in autistic individuals.

For example, an older 2015 study found that a modified form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was an effective treatment for autistic people with depression. However, more research is necessary to establish how effective these adaptations are at reducing depressive symptoms.

CBT can help people learn coping strategies for managing depression symptoms, such as negative thoughts and behaviors.

Learn more about therapy for depression.


Doctors may also prescribe different types of medications for treating depressive symptoms, such as antidepressants or antianxiety drugs.

Autistic people may receive similar medications for their depressive symptoms. These medications can help people deal with low mood, sleep problems, and self-harm.

However, healthcare professionals may be more cautious about the possible side effects of antidepressants, as these could pose greater risks in autistic people.

Peer support

Peer support groups can provide valuable support and understanding for autistic people and depression. People with personal experience with these conditions or a mental health professional may lead the groups.

Additionally, peer support groups can provide autistic people with a safe space to share experiences and receive support. This can help them with feelings of depression and anxiety.

Learn more about depression support groups.

Autistic people who experience depressive symptoms should seek support from a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Those who feel anxious about speaking about their symptoms could ask a friend, family member, or carer to attend the appointment with them for support.

Getting treatment from mental health professionals is an important step for dealing with depressive symptoms. A healthcare professional can help someone with autism choose the right types of treatment and monitor any potential side effects.

Promptly addressing depressive symptoms can stop them from worsening.

Autistic people have a higher risk of depression than those without autism. It is unclear what causes depression in autistic people, but it may be due to risk factors that are more common in these individuals.

Depression may cause different symptoms in autistic people and require different approaches to treatment.

Therapists may adapt how they deliver therapy to account for autistic people, and healthcare professionals need to be more cautious about the side effects of medication.