Fact sheet on comorbid disorders with Aspergers and Autism, two Autism Spectrum Disorders


A diagnosis is made when an individual meets a sufficient number of the symptom criteria for the depression spectrum as suggested in the DSM-IV-TR or ICD-9/ICD-10. An individual is often seen to suffer from what is termed as a “clinical depression” without fully meeting the various criteria advanced for a specific diagnosis on the depression spectrum. Possible causes of depression are not taken into account in diagnosis, unless it may be due to an existing medical condition.


It is important to understand that there is no blood test or brain scan for depression. Therefore the term “clinical depression” can be misleading to those who erroneously believe that there is a medical test for this disorder. Laboratory tests can provide medical data for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, but currently not for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.


Symptoms of depression

According to the DSM-IV-TR criteria for diagnosing a major depressive disorder (cautionary statement) one of the following two elements must be present for a period of at least two weeks:

Depressed mood, or Anhedonia.


It is sufficient to have either of these symptoms in conjunction with five of a list of other symptoms over a two-week period. These include:

• Feelings of overwhelming sadness and/or fear, or the seeming inability to feel emotion (emptiness)
• A decrease in the amount of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, daily activities
• Changing appetite and marked weight gain or loss
• Disturbed sleep patterns, such as insomnia, loss of REM sleep, or excessive sleep (Hypersomnia)
• Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day
• Fatigue, mental or physical, also loss of energy
• Intense feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, isolation/loneliness and/or anxiety
• Trouble concentrating, keeping focus or making decisions or a generalized slowing and obtunding of cognition, including memory
• Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), desire to just “lay down and die” or “stop breathing”, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide
• Feeling and/or fear of being abandoned by those close to one.


Other symptoms often reported but not usually taken into account in diagnosis include:

• Self-loathing
• A decrease in self-esteem
• Inattention to personal hygiene
• Sensitivity to noise
• Physical aches and pains, and the belief these may be signs of serious illness
• Fear of ‘going mad’
• Change in perception of time
• Periods of sobbing
• Possible behavioral changes, such as aggression and/or irritability.


It is hard for people who have not experienced clinical depression, either personally or by regular exposure to people suffering it, to understand its emotional impact and severity, interpreting it instead as being similar to “having the blues” or “feeling down.” As the list of symptoms above indicates, clinical depression is a serious, potentially lethal systemic disorder characterized by the psychiatric industry as interlocking physical, affective, and cognitive symptoms that have consequences for function and survival well beyond sad or painful feelings.


Diagnosing depression in children

Depression in children is not as obvious as it is in adults. Here are some symptoms that children might display:

• Loss of appetite
• Irritability
• Sleep problems, such as recurrent nightmares
• Learning or memory problems where none existed before
• Significant behavioral changes; such as withdrawal, social isolation, and aggression.


An additional indicator could be the excessive use of drugs or alcohol. Depressed adolescents are at particular risk of further destructive behaviors, such as eating disorders and self-harm.


Treatment of depression

Treatment of depression varies broadly and is different for each individual. Various types and combinations of treatments may have to be tried, but without hope in a complete solution to the problem. There are two primary modes of treatment, typically used in conjunction: medication, and psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A third treatment, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), may be used when chemical treatment fails. Other alternative treatments used for depression include exercise and the use of vitamins, herbs, or other nutritional supplements.


The effectiveness of treatment often depends on factors such as the amount of optimism and hope the sufferer is able to maintain, the control s/he has over stressors, the severity of symptoms, the amount of time the sufferer has been depressed, the results of previous treatments, and the degree of support of family, friends, and significant others.


Although treatment is generally effective, in some cases the condition does not respond. Treatment-resistant depression warrants a full assessment, which may lead to the addition of psychotherapy, higher medication dosages, changes of medication or combination therapy, a trial of ECT/electroshock, or even a change in the diagnosis, with subsequent treatment changes. Although this process helps many, some people’s symptoms continue unabated.


In emergencies, psychiatric hospitalization is used simply to keep suicidal people safe until they cease to be dangers to themselves. Another treatment program is partial hospitalization, in which the patient sleeps at home but spends the day, either five or seven days a week, in a psychiatric hospital setting in intense treatment. This treatment usually involves group therapy, individual therapy, psychopharmacology, and academics (in child and adolescent programs).


Medication for depression

Medications that relieve the symptoms of depression, antidepressants, have been available for several decades. These drugs are listed in order of historical development. Typical first-line therapy for depression is the use of an selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, such as sertraline. Research has indicated that medication should be prescribed in combination with psychotherapy for most effective treatment.


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as Nardil may be used if other antidepressant medications are ineffective. Because there are potentially fatal interactions between this class of medication and certain foods and drugs, they are rarely prescribed anymore. MAOI’s are used to block the enzyme monoamine oxidase which breaks down neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. MAOI’s are as effective as tricyclics, if not slightly more effective. A new MAOI has recently been introduced. Moclobemide, known as a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A (RIMA), follows a very specific chemical pathway and does not require a special diet.


Tricyclic antidepressants are the oldest and include such medications as amitriptyline and desipramine. Tricyclics block the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin. They are used less commonly now because of their side effects, which include increased heart rate, drowsiness, dry mouth,constipation, urinary retention, blurred vision,dizziness, confusion, and sexual dysfunction. Most importantly, they have a high potential to be lethal in moderate overdose. However, tricyclic antidepressants are still used because of their high potency, especially in severe cases of clinical depression.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a family of antidepressant considered to be the current standard of drug treatment. It is thought that one cause of depression is an inadequate amount of serotonin, a chemical used in the brain to transmit signals between neurons. SSRIs are said to work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin by the nerve cell, thus maintaining the levels the brain needs to function effectively, although two researchers recently demonstrated that this is a marketing technique rather than a scientific portrayal of how the drugs actually work. Recent research indicates that these drugs may interact with transcription factors known as “clock genes”, which may be important for the addictive properties of drugs of abuse and possibly in obesity. This family of drugs includes fluoxetine, paroxetine, escitalopram , citalopram, and sertraline. These antidepressants typically have fewer adverse side effects than the tricyclics or the MAOIs, although such effects as drowsiness, dry mouth, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, decreased appetite, and decreased ability to function sexually may occur. Some side effects may decrease as a person adjusts to the drug, but other side effects may be persistent.


Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as reboxetine (Edronax) act via norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline). NeRIs are thought to have a positive effect on concentration and motivation in particular. Drugs such as Bupropion can help with smoking cessation. It is also known to inhibit the neuronal reuptake of dopamine.


Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine and duloxetine are a newer form of antidepressant that works on both noradrenaline and serotonin. They typically have similar side effects to the SSRIs, although there may be a withdrawal syndrome on discontinuation that may necessitate dosage tapering.


Dietary supplements

5-HTP supplements are claimed to provide more raw material to the body’s natural serotonin production process. There is a reasonable indication that 5-HTP may not be effective for those who haven't already responded well to an SSRI because of their similar function: SSRIs allow the brain to use its serotonin more effectively, while 5-HTP induces production of more serotonin.


S-adenosyl methionine (SAM-e) is a derivative of the amino acid methionine that is found throughout the human body, where it acts as a methyl donor and participates in other biochemical reactions. It is available as a prescription antidepressant in Europe and an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the United States. Clinical trials have shown SAM-e to be as effective as standard antidepressant medication, with fewer side effects; however, some studies have reported an increased incidence of mania resulting from SAM-e use compared to other antidepressants. Its mode of action is unknown.


Omega-3 fatty acids (found naturally in oily fish, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and canola oil) have also been found to be effective when used as a dietary supplement (although only fish-based omega-3 fatty acids have shown antidepressant efficacy.


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), available as a supplement in the U.S., raises serotonin levels. Chocolate improves mood, probably by raising serotonin.


St John’s Wort [Hypericum perforatum] has traditionally been used by ‘wise women’ and midwives for hundreds of years, to ‘chase away the devil’ of melancholia and anxiety. It is a mood-enhancing herbal substance which acts like an antidepressant and increases the availability of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine at the neuron synapses. Also popular for treating insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, PMS and menopause. It should not be used at the same time as other antidepressants.


Ginkgo Biloba Effective is claimed to be a natural antidepressant, apparently stabilizing cell membranes, inhibiting lipid breakdown and aiding cell use of oxygen and glucose - so subsequently a mental and vascular stimulant that improves neurotransmitter production. It is also popular for treating mental concentration (such as for Alzheimer’s and stroke patients).


Siberian Ginseng [Eleutherococcus senticosus], although not a true panax ginseng, is a mood enhancement supplement against stress. It is also popular for treating depression, insomnia, moodiness, fatigue, poor memory, lack of focus, mental tension and endurance.


Zinc at 25mg per day has had an antidepressant effect in one experiment.


Vitamin B-12: Symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency can include depression and other psychiatric disorders.


The amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine have also a favorable effect on easy forms of depression. They are supposed to enhance the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin.



In psychotherapy, or counseling, one receives assistance in understanding and resolving habits or problems that may be contributing to or the cause of the depression. This may be done individually or with a group and is conducted by mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, or psychiatric nurses.


Effective psychotherapy may result in different habitual thinking and action which leads to a lower relapse rate than antidepressant drugs alone. Medication, however, may yield quicker results and be strongly indicated in a crisis. Medication and psychotherapy are generally complementary, and both may be used at the same time.


It is important to ask about potential therapists’ training and approach; a very close bond often forms between practitioner and client, and it is important that the client feel understood by the clinician. Moreover, some approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy have been convincingly demonstrated to be much more effective in treating depression.


Counselors can help a person make changes in thinking patterns, deal with relationship problems, detect and deal with relapses, and understand the factors that contribute to depression.


There are many counseling approaches, but all are aimed at improving one’s personal and interpersonal functioning. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been demonstrated in carefully controlled studies to be among the foremost of the recent wave of methods which achieve more rapid and lasting results than traditional “talk therapy” analysis. Cognitive therapy, often combined with behavioral therapy, focuses on how people think about themselves and their relationships. It helps depressed people learn to replace negative depressive thoughts with realistic ones, as well as develop more effective coping behaviors and skills.


Therapy can be used to help a person develop or improve interpersonal skills in order to allow him or her to communicate more effectively and reduce stress. Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on the social and interpersonal triggers that cause their depression. Narrative therapy gives attention to each person’s “dominant story” by means of therapeutic conversations, which also may involve exploring unhelpful ideas and how they came to prominence. Possible social and cultural influences may be explored if the client deems it helpful. Behavioral therapy is based on the assumption that behaviors are learned. This type of therapy attempts to teach people more healthful types of behaviors. Supportive therapy encourages people to discuss their problems and provides them with emotional support. The focus is on sharing information, ideas, and strategies for coping with daily life. Family therapy helps people live together more harmoniously and undo patterns of destructive behavior.


Electroconvulsive therapy

Also known as electroshock or electroshock therapy, this therapy uses short bursts of a controlled current of electricity (typically fixed at 0.9 ampere) into the brain to induce a brief, artificial seizure while the patient is under general anesthesia.


ECT has acquired a fearsome reputation, in part from its use as a tool of repression in the former USSR and its barbaric fictional depiction in films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Requiem for a Dream, but remains a common treatment where other means of treatment have failed or where the use of drugs is unacceptable. Also, in contrast to direct electroshock of years ago, most countries now allow ECT to be administered only under anesthesia.


In a typical regimen of treatment, a patient receives three treatments per week over three or four weeks. Repeat sessions may be needed. Short-term memory loss, disorientation, and headache are very common side effects. In some cases, permanent memory loss has occurred, but detailed neuropsychological testing in clinical studies has not been able to prove permanent effects on memory. ECT offers the benefit of a very fast response; however, this response has been shown not to last unless maintenance electroshock or maintenance medication is used. Whereas antidepressants usually take around a month to take effect, the results of ECT have been shown to be much faster. For this reason, it is the treatment of choice in emergencies (e.g., in catatonic depression in which the patient has ceased oral intake of fluid or nutrients).



It is widely believed that physical activity and exercise help depressed patients and promote quicker and better relief from depression. They are also thought to help antidepressants and psychotherapy work better and faster. It can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise if the depression is severe, but sufferers should be encouraged to take part in some form of regularly scheduled physical activity. A workout need not be strenuous; many find walking, for example, to be of great help. Exercise produces higher levels of chemicals in the brain, notably dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. In general this leads to improvements in mood, which is effective in countering depression.


Note that before beginning an exercise regime, it is wise to consult a doctor. He or she can establish whether a person has any health problems that could contraindicate some types of exercise.


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This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of a Depression article at http://en.wikipedia.org

Bipolar disorder can be co-morbid with Autism Spectrum Disorders such as Aspergers and Autism