Mental health and autism

27 November 2018 – Several of the articles in the Altogether Autism Journal, Issue 3 2018, writes national manager Catherine Trezona, touch on the challenges for autistic people who are also experiencing mental health concerns.

Alex, Andrew and Elroy shared their experiences and we know theirs are not isolated cases.

Altogether Autism is actively advocating for better support and services for autistics. In June of this year, nearly 200 people contributed to our submission to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry and we look forward to this Inquiry’s report to the Government, due out in November 2018.

Along with representatives from other autism organisations, we met members of the Inquiry panel and voiced our concerns regarding the failure of the current mental health system to meet autistic needs. Our submission is on the Altogether Autism website.

Two of the key frustrations for the autistic community is access to assessment and diagnosis, and access to treatment for mental health concerns.

In 2014 the Ministry of Health (the Ministry) recognised that there are teens and adults who have not been assessed for autism as children.

The Ministry said the responsibility for funded assessment and treatment of co-existing mental health issues for anyone over 15 years old, lies very clearly with mental health services.

Teens between 15-19 are to be assessed by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health and adults 19 and over are referred to Adult Community Mental Health.

For many adults once they are diagnosed with autism any co-occurring mental health needs are not supported by mental health services as their mental health needs are seen as part of autism and therefore considered not within the scope of mental health services.

According to the Ministry, this is incorrect as mental health services are responsible for both diagnosis of autism and treatment for co-existing mental health challenges. If you or someone you know is experiencing barriers to autism assessment and/or treatment for mental health conditions, please let us know.

The Ministry wants to know this and we are gathering data to share with them.

We endeavour to do all we can to try to assist with this issue for autistics. If you are facing barriers to support for mental health difficulties, please contact us for information on pathways to the right services and supports. For professionals wanting to upskill on autism-specific strategies, we run a range of workshops for mental health clinicians developed and delivered by both autistics and clinicians.

We highly recommend the excellent book, The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum, by Jeanette Purkis, Emma Goodall and Jane Nugent.

This practical book looks at common mental health issues and gives guidance on treatment options and strategies to improve and maintain mental wellness. Personal stories and mentoring advice from a lived experience ensures this book is relevant for autistic people, families and professionals.

WE ASKED: Respondents to our survey on mental health rate their overall experience in using mental health and/or addiction services.

  • Catherine Trezona is the Altogether Autism national manager
  • This article appeared in Altogether Autism Journal, Issue 3 2018


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