Antidepressants are types of medications which are normally used to treat people with moderate to severe depressive illness. They may also be used to treat people with a range of other conditions including
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Obsessive compulsive disorders
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are several types of antidepressants including
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Selective serotonin reuptake enhancers (SSREs)
- Serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)
- Tricyclic and tricyclic-like antidepressants (TCAs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Antidepressants are normally prescribed in combination with other treatments, such as talking treatments and lifestyle changes.
Antidepressants are sometimes used to help people on the autism spectrum with mental health problems (such as depression and anxiety), with the core features of autism (such as restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests) and with other issues (such as challenging behaviours).
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) made the following recommendations:
“Do not use antidepressant medication for the routine management of core symptoms of autism in adults.” (NICE, 2012)
“Do not use [antidepressants] for the management of core features of autism in children and young people.” (NICE, 2013)
There is insufficient high quality research evidence to determine if antidepressants have any effect on the core features of autism, such as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities.
There is insufficient high quality research evidence to determine if antidepressants have any effect on mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, in people on the autism spectrum.
There is insufficient high quality research evidence to determine if antidepressants have any effect on other issues, such as challenging behaviours, in people on the autism spectrum.
There is evidence of significant side effects of some antidepressants in some people including in some individuals on the autism spectrum.
We believe that antidepressants should only be used in combination with other treatments, under specialist supervision, and where other measures prove insufficient.
When choosing a specific antidepressant medication, you should take into account any side effects, the costs, your preference, and your response to any previous treatment with an antidepressant.
Future research should determine which antidepressants are effective for the treatment of which issues in which individuals on the autism spectrum. It should compare antidepressants with other, non-medicinal interventions designed to tackle depression, anxiety and other issues in people on the autism spectrum. It should also investigate the optimal dosage and length of treatment for different individuals, while also investigating any long-term effects.
Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions