Rachel O’Connor is a trainee clinical psychologist in the UCD Department of Psychology whose doctoral research project seeks to understand mental health and wellbeing within the autistic population in Ireland. This research project was designed in collaboration with AsIAm and a panel of seven autistic adults. The first phase of the study involved interviewing 20 autistic adults with experiences of mental health difficulties. The interviewees reported several factors, which seemed to be common triggers for mental health difficulties such as stigma, belonging, exclusion, isolation and bullying. This phase of the research study aims to measure levels of wellbeing, anxiety and depression of autistic adults in Ireland.
O’Connor acknowledges that autism is often pathologized or even mistaken for mental illness, therefore preventing timely diagnosis. However, she also notes an autistic person is more likely to experience this issues than a non autistic person. The study argues promoting positive wellbeing is just as important as preventing mental health difficulties. The research will measure this using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale concentrating on positive emotions and satisfaction with relationships. This is important given that defining wellbeing in autistic adults can be unreliable when using non-autistic adults as the default.
Agreeing that more targeted and preventative supports are needed for autistic adults’ mental health, O’Connor hopes that the findings of this research project can be used to help prevent autistic people developing difficulties in the first place by establishing the levels of wellbeing, anxiety and depression in the autistic population in Ireland and examining if factors such as stigma and bullying contribute to poorer wellbeing, as well as if a positive autistic identity and experiences of belonging and inclusion can boost wellbeing.
With the right findings, the researchers hope to aid autistic people in supporting their wellbeing and preventing the development of mental health difficulties. Potential approaches are anti-stigma and discrimination campaigns or supporting autistic people to develop a positive autistic identity. O’Connor notes that gaining a formal diagnosis can play a factor in self-understanding, but there are barriers to accessing one. Misdiagnosis complicates this even further. To remedy this O’Connor encourages self-diagnosed autistic adults to take part as well.
To take part, simply click the link on the survey below!