Association between Autism Spectrum Disorders with or without Intellectual Disability and Depression in Young Adulthood

Dheeraj Rai, Hein Heuvelman, Christina Dalman, Iryna Culpin, Michael Lundberg, Peter Carpenter, Cecilia Magnusson

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Importance: Depression is a frequently occurring mental disorder and may be common in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but there is a lack of longitudinal population-based studies examining this association. Whether any increased risk of depression in ASD has a shared familial basis and whether it differs by co-occurring intellectual disability is not well known. Objectives: To examine whether individuals with ASD are more likely to be diagnosed as having depression in adulthood than the general population and their nonautistic siblings and to investigate whether these risks differ by the presence or absence of intellectual disability. Design, Setting, and Participants: Population-based cohort study with a nested sibling comparison. The Stockholm Youth Cohort is a total population record linkage study that includes all children and young people (age range, 0-17 years) who were ever resident in Stockholm County, Sweden, between January 2001 and December 2011 (n = 735096). Data analysis was conducted between January 5 and November 30, 2017, in Stockholm County, Sweden. Main Outcomes and Measures: Clinical diagnosis of depressive disorders was identified using the Stockholm County Adult Psychiatric Outpatient Register and the Swedish National Patient Register. Results: Participants were 223842 individuals followed up to age 27 years by 2011, of whom 4073 had diagnosed ASD (mean [SD] age, 21.5 [2.7] years; 65.9% male; 2927 without intellectual disability and 1146 with intellectual disability) and 219769 had no ASD (mean [SD] age, 22.1 [2.8] years; 50.9% male). By age 27 years, 19.8% (n = 808) of individuals diagnosed having ASD had a diagnosis of depression compared with 6.0% (n = 13114) of the general population (adjusted relative risk [RR], 3.64; 95% CI, 3.41-3.88). The risk of a depression diagnosis was higher in ASD without intellectual disability (adjusted RR, 4.28; 95% CI, 4.00-4.58) than in ASD with intellectual disability (adjusted RR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.51-2.17). Nonautistic full-siblings (adjusted RR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.23-1.53) and half-siblings (adjusted RR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.23-1.64) of individuals with ASD also had a higher risk of depression than the general population. Compared with their nonautistic full-siblings, individuals with ASD had more than a 2-fold risk of a depression diagnosis (adjusted odds ratio, 2.50; 95% CI, 1.91-3.27) in young adulthood. Conclusions and Relevance: According to this study's results, ASD, particularly ASD without intellectual disability, is associated with depression by young adulthood compared with the general population. It appears that this association is unlikely to be explained by shared familial liability. Future research to identify modifiable pathways between ASD and depression may assist in the development of preventive interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere181465
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


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