Researchers Find Link Between Autism and Mental Health Issues

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With roughly one in every 62 children in the United States somewhere on the spectrum, autism remains a difficult to understand but no less serious problem for medical professionals. While patients on the autism spectrum can go on to lead healthy, balanced lives, the condition presents a host of challenges that can make socializing, finding work, and other aspects of adulthood more difficult. Researchers who recently published their findings in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders determined that this is further complicated by their discovery of a link between autism and mental health conditions.

The study was produced in part by Yona Lunksy, one of York University’s leading scientists and a key player at Toronto’s Health-Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities group. Lunsky selected Ontario, Canada as the base for the project and analyzed two groups of adults aged 18 to 24. The age bracket was largely based around the fact that 18 is when Canadian citizens transfer to social and mental services for adults, while 24 provided an additional two years of followup study after the typical graduation age of 22. Within the first group were 5,095 young adult patients with an autism diagnosis, along with a further 10,487 with a developmental diagnosis. The second group sampled at random 20 percent of Ontario’s young adult population without any diagnosis.

In short, the study, which did not initially set out to investigate the alleged link, found a correlation between an autism diagnosis and psychiatric conditions. Namely, the chances of patients with autism having an additional psychiatric issue were five times greater compared to those without a diagnosis and two times greater than those who had developmental disabilities. All told, roughly half of all patients with autism also had a psychiatric diagnosis, compared to 39 percent in those with a developmental disorder and around 20 percent among sampled individuals classified as “typically developing.” The psychiatric conditions most common were anxiety and depression, an important fact given that these mental difficulties on their own can make integration into society difficult for young adults.

The study sheds more light on the challenges those with autism face and what steps medical professionals must take in order to treat patients more effectively. Lunksy ultimately hopes that her work will recognize the social cost of leaving these conditions undiagnosed and thus untreated, with the goal to provide more comprehensive treatment for those with autism who present with a psychiatric diagnosis.