Autistic People's Experience of Psychotropic Medication for the Treatment of Mental Health Conditions

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
S. Au-Yeung1, L. Bradley2, A. E. Robertson2, R. Shaw3, S. Baron-Cohen4 and S. A. Cassidy5, (1)Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom, (3)NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, (4)Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (5)School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Background: Previous research has shown that autistic people are more likely to experience mental health difficulties during their lifetime (Lever & Geurts, 2016). Despite this, psychopharmacological studies have mainly focussed on the treatment of core symptoms of autism, rather than the treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions. Currently, little is known about autistic people’s experience of psychotropic medication for the treatment of mental health conditions.

Objectives: The current study explores autistic people’s subjective experience of taking medication for co-occurring mental health conditions.

Methods: 183 autistic and 74 non-autistic adults completed an online survey on topics surrounding mental health, self-injury and suicidality. Participants who had received at least one mental health diagnosis were asked: 1) whether they were taking medication for any of their mental health conditions, 2) which medications they were currently taking, and how long they had been taking them, 3) to rate how helpful the medication had been to them, 4) to rate how satisfied they were with their medication, 5) whether there had been any unwanted side effects and 6) what their experience of taking medication for their mental health condition(s) had been. Chi-square analysis was used to compare proportion of autistic to non-autistic participants on medication (Question 1) and experiencing side effects (Question 5). Pairwise comparisons were used to compare length of time on medication (Question 2), helpfulness rating (Question 3), and satisfaction rating (Question 4). Thematic analysis was used to analyse qualitative data (Question 6).

Results: There was a higher proportion of autistic participants on current medication for their mental health conditions compared to non-autistic participants. The most common medication listed by participants was antidepressants. After controlling for age, there was no significant difference in the length of time that autistic and non-autistic people had been on medication. Autistic participants rated their medication to be less helpful and were less satisfied with their medication compared to non-autistic participants. Autistic participants were no more likely than non-autistic participants to report experiencing side effects. Autistic people’s experiences of taking medication were mixed, with both positive (e.g. “The medication helps reduce perseverative/intrusive suicidal thoughts significantly, which is great.”) and negative (e.g. “I hated taking the medication every day… I sleep a lot because of the aripiprazole and it slows down my brain. I don't think antipsychotics should be given to people with autism.”) examples present in the data.

Conclusions: Given previous findings that co-occurring mental health are more commonly reported in autistic adults (Lever & Geurts, 2016), and the current findings that autistic people report more negative experiences of medication compared to non-autistic people, it is therefore imperative that future research is conducted to determine the effectiveness of psychotropic medication for treating mental health conditions in autistic people.