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Is it Sadness or Full-Blown Depresson: Tips for Adults on the Spectrum

“How do I know if I'm merely sad, or if it’s full blown depression? Do any of you Aspies suffer from chronic depression – I mean each day pretty much all day long? What do you do to overcome it – or just to live with it?”

There is a clear difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is a temporary emotion that you overcome after a relatively short period of time (may take several hours or sometimes a few days), and you regain your normal mood at some point. But, depression lingers for weeks, months – and even years. It becomes a part of you and affects your day-to-day functioning.

You’ll know you’re depressed when you lack motivation, sleep constantly (or want to), rarely eat (or eat all the time), feel excessively lazy, and become extremely negative towards yourself. Also, you may find yourself crying, having thoughts of suicide, feeling lonely even when you’re surrounded by people, and feeling a general sense of “numbness.”

Depression is very common among people with Asperger’s (high-Functioning autism). Many of the same deficits that produce anxiety unite to produce depression. The relationship between serotonin functioning and depression has been researched heavily. Basic circuitry related to frontal lobe functions in depression is affected in people on the spectrum. Also, deficits in social relationships and responses that permit one to compensate for disappointment and frustration fuel a vulnerability to depression.

Due to the fact that some features of depression and Asperger’s overlap, it is important to track that the changes in mood are a departure from baseline functioning. Therefore, the presence of social withdrawal in an individual with Asperger’s should not be considered a symptom of depression unless there is an acute decline from his or her baseline level of functioning.

The core symptoms of depression occur together. Therefore, the simultaneous appearance of certain symptoms (e.g., decreased energy, further withdrawal from social interactions, irritability, loss of pleasure in activities, self-deprecating statements, and sleep/appetite changes would point to depression.

Medications that are useful for treatment of depression are serotonin reuptake inhibitors. There also may be indications for considering tricyclic drugs with appropriate monitoring of ECG, pulse, and blood pressure. There are no drugs that have been shown to be particularly more beneficial for depressive symptoms in people with Asperger’s as compared to the general population. Therefore, the decision as to which drugs to use is determined by side effect profiles, previous experience, and responses to these medications in other family members.

Numerous self-help strategies to cope with depression can be helpful as well.  

CLICK HERE for more information on self-help methods for depression.   

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