A person writing in a notebook.

Autism and mental health

What is autism?

Autism is not a mental health problem. It's a developmental condition that affects how you see the world and how you interact with other people.

Just like anyone else, autistic people can have good mental health. However, people with autism do often experience mental health problems. According to Autistica, seven out of ten autistic people have a mental health condition such as anxietydepression or OCD.

You might have heard the phrase ‘on the autism spectrum’, or ‘autistic spectrum’. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means it affects people in very different ways. However, there are certain traits that most autistic people experience to some extent.

Some common traits many autistic people experience include:

  • difficulty recognising or understanding other people's emotions and expressing their own
  • being over- or under-sensitive to things like loud noises and bright lights, and finding crowded noisy spaces challenging
  • preferring familiar routines and finding unexpected changes to those routines challenging or distressing
  • having intense and specific interests in things
  • difficulties reading body language, understanding sarcasm and facial expressions

All of these traits can be experienced to lesser or greater degrees. Experiencing one or more of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean you are autistic. But if these kinds of things are consistently present and are impacting upon your life, you may consider talking to your GP to discuss how you can seek a formal diagnosis.

How to get an autism diagnosis
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

If you are on the autistic spectrum, just the same as any young person, it is important to seek specialist help when you feel like you need it. But it's also important to take good care of yourself.

Young autistic people tell us that things like exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep and talking things through with people they know and trust can help their mental health.

You might find unexpected changes very stressful, so trying to keep daily routines as predictable as possible can help you to reduce anxiety.

Find out more about autism
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 are worried about an autistic friend’s mental wellbeing, it is important to talk to them, and encourage them to look after themselves and seek specialist help if needed.

Autistic young people might find it harder to communicate how they feel, so here are some tips that can help you to have a positive conversation:

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

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?

It can be helpful to ask your friend how they prefer to communicate. Some people may prefer to text, or write something down, or to have time in advance to think about their answers. 

An autistic person may take some time to process your question and respond to it. When waiting for an answer, it might feel tempting to ask the question again, or rephrase – silences can feel awkward! Instead, give your friend plenty of time to respond, and be OK with the silence.

  • 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:
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday

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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