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Gender differences in mental health prevalence in autism

Felicity Sedgewick (Department of Education, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK and Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, London, UK)
Jenni Leppanen (Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, London, UK)
Kate Tchanturia (Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, South London and Maudsley Mental Health NHS Trust, London, UK, and Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 6 June 2020

Issue publication date: 11 August 2021

507

Abstract

Purpose

Mental health conditions are known to be more common amongst autistic than non-autistic people. To date, there is little work exploring gender differences in mental health amongst autistic people and no work including non-binary/trans people. This paper aims to address this gap.

Design/methodology/approach

This was a large-scale online study, with 948 participants between 18 and 81 years old. Participants self-reported autism, anxiety, depression and eating disorder status. Analyses were run examining gender differences in the rates of these conditions in each group.

Findings

Autistic people are more likely to have anxiety and depression than non-autistic people of all genders. Autistic women and non-binary people experienced mental health issues at higher rates than men and at similar rates to each other. Autistic people were twice as likely as non-autistic people to have all eating disorders. Further, gendered patterns of eating disorders seen in the non-autistic population are also present in the autistic population.

Research limitations/implications

There are inherent issues with self-report of diagnoses online, but this study showed that using screening questionnaires is effective.

Originality/value

This is the first paper to look at gender differences in common mental health issues amongst autistic and non-autistic adults. It highlights that there are significant gendered patterns in the prevalence of mental health issues in both the autistic and non-autistic population and that these have an impact for how treatment should be approached to be effective.

Keywords

Citation

Sedgewick, F., Leppanen, J. and Tchanturia, K. (2021), "Gender differences in mental health prevalence in autism", Advances in Autism, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 208-224. https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-01-2020-0007

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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