Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. It’s good to have you here. How are you feeling? Are you happy? If so, what does happiness mean to you? I’ve blogged before about the fact that whilst I experience occasional pleasure and joy, a state of happiness is something that eludes me. Much of this, I believe, is down to living in a largely neurotypical world as an autistic person. Depression has been pretty much constant in my life, although the severity of it has fluctuated. This seems to be pretty common in autistic people. It’s widely accepted that depression is far more common in autistic people than in the general population. But that’s not to say depression is rare in non-autistic people. According to the World Health Organisation, depression affects about 5% of the global population, and is classed as a “major contributor to the overall global burden of disease”. It is often quoted that depression is more common in women than men, but this could be a red herring; it’s entirely possible that it is simply identified less often in men. Depression can lead to suicide, and suicide is a leading cause of death in adult males in the UK. Depression affects all genders, and is not confined to adults.
The causes of depression can be complex. Sometimes, there are definite, identifiable triggers; bereavement, or unemployment, for example. Sometimes, the causes are not so clear, and there may be a combination of triggers. Some people seem to be naturally susceptible to depression. Considering that depression is such a worldwide phenomenon, and that it has an effect on the global economy, workplace productivity, and health service burden, you’d think it would be taken more seriously. But we seem, as a worldwide culture, to accept it. The key to eradicating any illness is to remove the root causes, but there is little of this approach to depression. According to The Pharmaceutical Journal, the number of antidepressant items prescribed over the past six years has increased by 34.8%, from 61.9 million items in 2015/2016 to 83.4 million items in 2021/2022. Arguably, for most people, anti-depressants treat the effects, not the causes, of depression. I’m not trying to demonise anti-depressants – I am currently using them successfully. But in many cases, including mine, these drugs treat the symptoms without affecting the cause. The social causes of depression and other mental illnesses cannot, of course, be treated with drugs.
There are various versions of aphorisms that go along the lines of, Money can’t buy you happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a Rolls Royce than on a bus. These throwaway remarks hide a truth, though. A major cause of depression (and conditions such as alcoholism and other addictions) is poverty. If you have ever been in the position of not being able to pay your mortgage or rent and other bills, of struggling to find the money for food, of finding debt piling up around you, you’ll know this. I’ve been in that position in the past, and it is destructive to mental health. Yes, rich people can be depressed… but they can also afford the very best treatment and advice, can take expensive vacations to recover, and will never go cold and hungry, or fear losing their homes. We live in a world in which capitalist excesses drive a social mechanism that continually transfers wealth from poor people to rich people, keeping the working class under the heels of the wealthy elite. Unchecked capitalism is a major social cause of depression. The wealthy elite will accept the hits on workplace productivity and the health service caused by the prevalence of depression, as long as the system means their profits continue to pile up.
Capitalism is not the only social driver of depression, of course. There are racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism, all contributing to making life feel worse for so many millions of people. These social causes of mental illness make me angry, and it upsets me that more people aren’t angry about the situation. This is why, a couple of days ago, I posted something to that effect on Mastodon:
Sadly, and predictably, this post drew anti-autistic hate speech. It was bound to happen; branding myself The Autistic Writer effectively paints a target on my back… but I’m quite happy to draw fire away from autistic people who may feel more vulnerable to online abuse. I like to take on hateful fools. So, here is how the thread unfolded, as I dealt with the anti-autistic hate speech from Mastodon user @LexTenebris…
Okay, there’s a lot here. Try to get past this malignant fool’s awful grammar, and see what they are saying: Firstly, claiming mental illness is a bad thing. Well, that depends on what you mean… obviously, no one wants to suffer illness, so yes it’s bad in that respect. But they go on to say “stop enshrining it as a sign of nobility”. Now we see the real point; this fool has a problem with people who are open about their mental health struggles. As I mentioned at the start of this blog post, mental health problems are common in autistic people, and I have been very open about my mental health issues, so… does this fool have a problem with autistic people… or even me specifically? Let’s see…
This person’s waffle about talking “truth” doesn’t mean anything – it’s a nonsense reply that makes no sense at all, which leaves limited scope for dealing with it. All I could do was try to draw out more of their hate…
So, at this point, the fool leans toward the old free speech defence, indicating that if I ask a question, I should be prepared for answers I don’t like. They don’t actually come out and say, “You’re trying to silence my free speech”, but the hint is there in the phrase, “Are you sure you’re up to actually stating things in public? Because the public usually gets to answer.” Like most people who try this defence of their nasty opinions, they forget that free speech cuts both ways…
This is a hell of a reply from the fool. They say, “No, more accurately I believe they [people with mental illnesses] HAVE a problem.” But this is a contradiction of their earlier comment, which stated, “They [people with mental illnesses] are incredibly unhealthy, encouraging others toward unhealthiness, and are acting as an excuse for people with ill intent to make even greater demands on everyone else.” This definitely indicates they think people suffering from mental illness are themselves a problem. Nothing like victim-blaming, is there? Their claim that modern western society is “elevating dysfunction” as a “sign of nobility” was revealing, and I could see exactly where this line of thought was heading. And sure enough…
Boom! There we have it – a reference to people using the term autistic as a “badge of honor” (sic). Here we get to the root of this fool’s hate… if autistic people like me are open about our autism, and are proud to be autistic, we are, according to them, the problem. And don’t get me started on how they conflate autism with mental illness – autism is not an illness.
Considering I brand myself The Autistic Writer, it does seem as though this fool has a problem with me being open and proud of my autism, or at least with autistic people generally who are open and proud. There was a time when I was more vulnerable as my mental health was in a dark place, and this kind of hate speech would have really hurt me. These days, I lap it up and enjoy calling it out. The only way to deal with this hate speech is to draw attention to it, and ridicule it, which is usually very easy. But some people who are in a vulnerable state will be hurt by words like this fool’s. It’s this kind of prejudice that feeds into the social processes that drive depression in the autistic community. And that is why I’ll keep on tackling it.
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That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.
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Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.