Tips for looking after your mental health if you are autistic
Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.
If you are autistic, it can be hard to find the support you might need when you are finding things tough. Around a quarter of texters who are autistic let us know that they do not have access to a service for support* and around a third have never asked for help elsewhere before contacting Shout*.
We have worked with the National Autistic Society who have provided some tips for how autistic people can manage their mental health over the pandemic.
It can feel scary to speak to someone you don’t know, but we are here for you, if you are struggling to cope.
Texting is easier than talking
Social interactions can be stressful if you are autistic. It can be harder to interpret other people’s emotions, facial expressions or tone of voice.
At Shout, we see that just over half of autistic people who text us* (52%) felt more comfortable texting than talking about private things and a third (33%) were too embarrassed to talk to someone in person or on the phone*.
I'm autistic, so I don't do phone calls.
Shout is a text service, run by trained volunteers who are overseen by Clinical Supervisors. We are here to support you if you are struggling to cope with how you feel. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Watch this animation that explains what happens when you text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258:
Over text, you have control over when you start and end a conversation and you can choose what to communicate or share. Our volunteers will support you and help you to feel calmer.
Do many autistic people contact Shout?
Around 1% of people are thought to be autistic in the UK. That’s around 700,000 people(1).
At Shout, our volunteers speak to many texters who are autistic. Our texter population is around 6 times more likely to report being autistic* (6%) compared to the UK population (1%). Currently, 1 in 50 (2%) of our conversations at Shout will mention autism or aspergers each day.
What kind of things do autistic people contact Shout about?
56% of texters who are autistic contacted Shout because they didn’t have anyone else to talk to*. You can text Shout about any feelings or emotions that you might be struggling to cope with. Here are some examples of issues that might come up in our conversations.
I don't normally open up to people, but I could talk
If you are autistic, you might find you feel anxious or stressed from time to time. At Shout, texters who are autistic mention anxiety or stress in 32% of conversations each day*. You are not alone.
Other common feelings or experiences that come up in conversation with texters who are autistic are: suicide (42% of conversations), depression or sadness (30% of conversations), relationships (21%), self-harm (21%), and loneliness (17%)*. No matter your issue, we understand.
Shout supports the LGBTQ+ community. 60% of texters who are autistic identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. Texters who are autistic are 4 times more likely to identify as Transgender or another non-binary gender* compared to our overall texter population. Our volunteers are non-judgmental and here to support you.
Can Shout Volunteers support autistic people?
86% of autistic people who text us found the service to be helpful to them*.
Some of these texters left us feedback about their experience after texting Shout, that you can read below:
"I really appreciate the help I was given tonight. I am usually rubbish at reaching out to strangers as I am autistic and am scared of talking to people I don't know, but I needed somewhere to go tonight as I am feeling really isolated and alone. My Shout volunteer was completely non-judgemental about my gender dysphoria. She helped me to stay calm and kept me safe from taking the pain out on myself, as I usually would have done. Thanks very much."
"Thank-you so much for the help. Especially for the practical tips and links to useful resources. It’s really helpful to have someone, who not only listens, but who can also provide help and practical solutions"
"Very helpful and empathetic, and really seemed to understand what it’s like in my situation. She seemed very calm and collected and took me through where I needed to go for further information."
Tips from the National Autistic Society
Coronavirus has been a difficult time for everyone’s mental health but it has turned autistic people and their families’ lives upside down, as seen in the National Autisic Society’s Left Stranded report. With many areas of the country under local lockdown and new rules being brought into place, the National Autistic Society have shared some general tips with Shout that we hope will help you get through this difficult time:
1 .Unexpected changes
If you’re autistic, small changes and unexpected events can trigger intense anxiety. So the disruption, uncertainty and pace of change of the last six months has been particularly hard for autistic children and adults.
A cancelled appointment, empty shelf or closure of a local café can be so much more than an inconvenience – it could cause extreme stress and lead to a meltdown or a shut down.
Tip: Try to give each day structure, by making time for exercise, eating and fun activities.
2. Sensory sensitivity
Being confined to a single place, even your home, can be very stressful if it’s busy or loud. Some autistic people may struggle without the sensory environment they’re used to, for instance at their ‘normal’ workplace.
Tip: Quiet areas can be an escape from all the hubbub of a busy household. Make sure there is somewhere that you can go to if you’re feeling overwhelmed or you have a way to block out sensory distractions, like noise cancelling headphones.
Most autistic people find communication difficult – it can be even harder when you’re stressed.
Tip: Let people know. You can agree how you’d like to talk to people. This could be over text, in writing or even at specific times of the day.
4. Processing time
New information about rules and local lockdowns are still being announced; all this information you find difficult to process and can make you anxious.
Tip: Limit your intake of news and new information. Only check the news of social media once or twice a day and give yourself time to process and deal with the new information.
Check out the links below for more information and guidance from the National Autistic Society or text SHOUT to 85258 for support.
(1) The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al. (2012) Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre.
Further information and support from the National Autistic Society:
- Read about their World Mental Health Day blog to hear more about their mental health work and research. If you are an autistic person or a family member you can get involved in this research by filling their survey.
- Read their information, advice and guidance about autism and mental health.
- If you’re looking for help or support, visit the contact centre of their dedicated helplines.
- Find out about their Autism Inpatient Mental Health Casework Service, which provides confidential advice and support autistic people at risk of going into inpatient units or stuck in them – or their families.
- Read their Left Stranded report about the impact of coronavirus on autistic people and their families.
- Find out about their Autism and Mental Health 2021 online conference.
*Data from Mental Health Innovations. This is based on texters who fill out the survey following their conversation (around 15-20%).