Autism Increases Depression Risk in Young Adulthood

September 11, 2018

By the time they reach young adulthood, people with autism spectrum disorders are at increased risk for depression, compared with the general population, according to a study published online in JAMA Network Open.

“Because of the likelihood of a substantial overrepresentation of depression among individuals with autism spectrum disorders,” researchers wrote, “a greater focus on timely identification and management of depression is important considering that it is a potentially treatable cause of distress, disability, and suicidal behaviors.”

Researchers came to the finding by following 223,842 people in Sweden through age 27. The study population included 4073 people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders—2927 without intellectual disability and 1146 with intellectual disability—and 219,769 people without autism from the general population, some of whom were siblings of people in the autism spectrum disorders cohort.

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The rate of depression at age 27 was 19.8% among people with autism spectrum disorders, according to the study, compared with 6% among people without autism. Among people with autism spectrum disorders, the risk of depression was higher in those without intellectual disability than in those with intellectual disability.

When researchers compared people with autism spectrum disorders with their full siblings without autism spectrum disorders, they found a more than 2-fold higher risk of depression in the young adults with autism spectrum disorders.  

“According to this study’s results, autism spectrum disorders, particularly autism spectrum disorders without intellectual disability, [are] associated with depression by young adulthood compared with the general population,” researchers wrote. “It appears that this association is unlikely to be explained by shared familial liability.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Rai D, Heuvelman H, Dalman C, et al. Association between autism spectrum disorders with or without intellectual disability and depression in young adulthood. JAMA Network Open. 2018 August 31.

Higher depression risk in young adulthood associated with autism spectrum disorders [press release]. London, England: JAMA Network Open; August 31, 2018.