A person writing in a notebook.

Autism and mental health

What is autism?

Autism is a neurodiverse condition that impacts how you think and how you see the world around you. It’s a spectrum condition, which means it affects people in very different ways. But there are certain traits that most autistic people experience to some extent.

If you’re autistic, you might:

  • find it hard to recognise or understand other people’s emotions or express your own
  • be very sensitive or not as sensitive to loud noises, bright lights or crowded spaces
  • prefer routines and find changes to routines distressing
  • have very intense or specific interests in things

Just like anyone else, autistic people can have good mental health. But lots of people with autism do experience mental health problems. If you’re autistic, or think you might be, we’re here to help you find support for your mental health if you need it.

A person leaning against a wall and laughing.
Being diagnosed has helped me understand who I am and how I see things and begun to help me value the person I am rather than trying to be someone I am not.

Looking after your mental health with autism

A young Black woman in a wheelchair and an older Black woman sitting on a bench in the park. They are talking about something serious.

If you’re on the autistic spectrum, you need to look after your mental health just the same as any young person.

Here are some things that young autistic people tell us help:

  • exercise
  • eating well
  • getting enough sleep
  • talking things through with people they know and trust
  • keeping to daily routines
A girl laughing while walking in the park.
I went 17 years of my life feeling like the odd one out and blaming myself, but all along my brain has just been wired differently to a neurotypical person.
Fab, 17
  • For those on the spectrum anxious about the future, I want to instill a sense of belief that I know many of us lack. The truth is every day we overcome our condition in so many different ways.
  • With the right support, autistic people can recover from mental health problems, but it’s vital that there are specialist services in place to support us.

Supporting a friend with autism

If you’re worried about an autistic friend’s mental wellbeing, it’s important to talk to them. Encourage them to look after themselves and seek specialist help if needed.

Autistic young people might find it harder to communicate how they feel. Here are some tips that can help you have positive conversations.

  • Talk in a calm space

    Background noise, fluorescent lighting – even the sound of you stirring your tea – can be really distracting and make a difficult conversation much harder.

  • Ask closed, direct questions

    Autistic people can find open questions such as "How was your day?" much harder to answer than something more defined, like "Did anything happen today that upset you?”

  • Find out what communication works best for them

    Ask your friend how they like to communicate. Some might prefer texting or writing things down. Or they might need time beforehand to think about their answers.

  • Give them time to answer

    An autistic person might need extra time to process and respond to your questions. It might feel tempting to ask the question again or rephrase it in the silence, but try to be patient and give them the time they need. It’s okay to have a bit of quite while they think.

  • I prefer to say I am autistic, rather than that I “have” autism, because autism isn’t an illness that you “have” - It is a part of who I am.
  • As part of my autism, I tend to take things very literally.

Real stories from autistic young people

Charis' story

How my Deaf and Autism diagnosis changed my life

Watch this video to hear Charis' story in their own words.

Video description: Charis is a Black young person wearing glasses and a blue jumper. They are standing in a room and telling their story using British Sign Language.

Hear more from Black Disabled young people

Get help now

If you are autistic, or think you might be, and you're struggling with your mental health, here are some services that can really help. 

  • National Autistic Society

    Offers support to autistic people and their families. They have a a wide range of information about autism – from what autism is, to diagnosis, to socialising and relationships.

  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If you are in crisis right now and want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

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This form is not a mental health support service. We cannot reply to this. If you are at risk of immediate harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E. If you are worried about your mental health, call: Childline (for under 19s) on 0800 11 11; or Samaritans on 116 123.

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