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Evaluating mental health challenges in young autistic adults

Autistic adults report numerous challenges in different ares of their life, which can both arise from and impact on their mental health. 

 

Our studies have explored various relationships between some of these challenges, including mental health concerns, daily functioning, quality of life, employment, and emotional reactivity. 

Results 

​We conducted the first Australian study looking at the mental health needs of autistic adults attending mental health services. We found that young autistic adults present to services with high mental health–support needs that require specialised intervention and service. We also found that elevated depression, anxiety, and stress were strongly linked to increased distress and disability, and decreased quality of life and work days in young autistic adults.

 

Park, S. H., Song, Y. J. C., Demetriou, E. A., Pepper, K. L., Norton, A., Thomas, E. E., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2019). Disability, functioning, and quality of life among treatment-seeking young autistic adults and its relation to depression, anxiety, and stress. Autism, 23(7), 1675-1686.

We explored the links between disability, mental health, and time off work for autistic employees. We found that autistic employees had moderate-to-severe depression, severe anxiety, and moderate stress. Almost half had taken a 'disability day' off work in the past 30 days. Mental health challenges, specifically levels of depression, was the best predictor of a 'disability day'. 

Stratton, E., Glozier, N., Woolard, A., Gibbs, V., Demetriou, E. A., Boulton, K. A., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2022). Understanding the vocational functioning of autistic employees: the role of disability and mental health. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-9.

Results 

Results 

We were the first to look at relationships between the way autistic people perceive their anxiety levels and their ability to get things done (executive function), and how well they perceive they can socialise and work. We found that participants who thought that they had more difficulties with executive function and social anxiety, also believed they were less able to work. 

Woolard, A., Stratton, E., Demetriou, E. A., Boulton, K. A., Pellicano, E., Glozier, N., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2021). Perceptions of social and work functioning are related to social anxiety and executive function in autistic adults. Autism, 25(7), 2124-2134.

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We conducted several studies looking at self-reported levels of empathy and social ability in autistic participants  and those with early psychosis and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). We found that participants with SAD particularly rated themselves poorly on cognitive empathy and social skills ability even though objectively they showed no real impairments in these areas. 

Pepper, K. L., Demetriou, E. A., Park, S. H., Song, Y. C., Hickie, I. B., Cacciotti-Saija, C., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2018). Autism, early psychosis, and social anxiety disorder: understanding the role of social cognition and its relationship to disability in young adults with disorders characterized by social impairments. Translational psychiatry, 8(1), 1-11.

 

Pepper, K. L., Demetriou, E. A., Park, S. H., Boulton, K. A., Hickie, I. B., Thomas, E. E., & Guastella, A. J. (2019). Self-reported empathy in adults with autism, early psychosis, and social anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Research, 281, 112604.

Results 

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