Depressive Realism5 min read

Autistic people with average and above-average intel­li­gence are up to 10 times more likely than neu­rotyp­ical people to commit sui­cide, with the highest sui­cide rate demon­strated in autistic women with an addi­tional diag­nosis of ADHD (Hirvikoski et al., 2019).

That makes me think.

You think too much is the stan­dard retort I get when I share my thoughts about the world, my wor­ries, and fears. Some react shocked to my analyses and feel­ings. Often I see in unbe­lieving and/or bored faces, or I’m faced with pure con­fu­sion and hes­i­ta­tion.

“Oh, don’t take that so hard! Blablabla-world-is-beautiful-gibberish…”

My problem is, among other things, the knowl­edge. There are phases in my life when I read sev­eral daily news­pa­pers a day, inform myself in books and arti­cles on his­tory, anthro­pology, eth­nology, phi­los­ophy, psy­chology, med­i­cine… Unfortunately, the con­clu­sion is that one can reach casu­ally from this knowl­edge: humanity is wasted — at least sooner or later.

Because that is the only log­ical con­clu­sion: species pass away, planets die, suns implode. And on a small scale: cul­tures perish, empires pass away — and prob­ably thought they, too, were there for­ever, the non-plus-ultra, immortal, imper­ish­able.

We humans live in our little time bub­bles and need this illu­sion. That’s where the con­cept of “depres­sive realism” comes from — the depres­sive person doesn’t manage to lie to him­self and main­tain the illu­sion of a just, safe world. They see the world and them­selves with a coldly real­istic per­spec­tive:

Depressive Realism argues that people with mild-to-moderate depres­sion have a more accu­rate per­cep­tion of reality than non-depressives. Depressive realism is a world­view of human exis­tence that is essen­tially neg­a­tive, and which chal­lenges assump­tions about the value of life and the insti­tu­tions claiming to answer life’s prob­lems.“

(Feltham, 2016)

And if one first takes a purely objec­tive look at all the suf­fering in the world in num­bers — since the exis­tence of the living and imma­nent in nature, inten­si­fied by man through tor­ture, rape, murder, war, and mutual exter­mi­na­tion — then one can have bad days when they let these cold facts have an empathic effect on them­selves.

Because that is reality. And we human beings need visions and illu­sions that dis­place this reality, oth­er­wise we would all not be able to sur­vive. Psychically.

Autistics find this repres­sion of facts and lying to them­selves dif­fi­cult. Depressive realism is prob­ably related to that, in my opinion. In addi­tion, many autistic people are highly empa­thetic, recep­tive to suf­fering and com­pas­sion.

For me, at least, this, together with the accu­mu­lated knowl­edge, some­times leads to a deep sad­ness about the tran­sience of every­thing that exists and the sub­jec­tivity of all our per­cep­tions, assess­ments and attri­bu­tions of meaning.

Such a way of per­ceiving the world does not make me very pop­ular.

Who wants to hear, for example, that it is most likely that at least Europeans will sooner or later be dec­i­mated by a plague like the plague of 2015 (Cassini et al., 2019). By the way, it came from Asia (Sussman, 2011), where it never broke out as fatally as in Europe.

My hypoth­esis is that the people there were simply cleaner and more hygienic than the Europeans of that time wading through their own shit, which pre­vented trans­mis­sion by fleas in Asia (Singer, 1991).

Also today: mouth­guard (face masks) for colds, taking off shoes in front of the door… to pro­tect others. We Europeans all sneeze all over, many don’t vac­ci­nate and don’t under­stand germs, then treat every­thing with antibi­otics and breed multi-resistant germs with it…

If someone would try to live safely for the bet­ter­ment of others and put on a mouth­guard in case of a cold in order not to endanger infants and immuno­com­pro­mised patients, he would be socially pun­ished. That is the way social norms are in Europe. Presentation and the per­for­mance of one’s duties go above all safety…

In this or a sim­ilar way, I could analyse every smallest part of everyday life all day long, get angry about inef­fec­tive­ness and irre­spon­si­bility, become sad and des­perate because of greed and sadism… Everything can usu­ally be proven neatly by num­bers and sources.

If you don’t pay atten­tion your­self, reality quickly pulls you into the depres­sive hole, or into Depressive Realism. If one also con­siders that most autistic people were bul­lied at least during their school years (IAN Research Report, 2012) and were sta­tis­ti­cally more fre­quently affected by vio­lent assaults (Weiss, & Fardella, 2018).

Autistics are also often excluded and stig­ma­tized in their working life (National Autistic Society, 2016), if you add the cost of the “cam­ou­flaging” or masking (Cage & Troxell-Whitman, 2019), and the entire western living envi­ron­ment, which is mostly exhausting for autistic people and some­times sen­so­ri­ally over­taxing (I’m just saying…): If the high risk of sui­cide is also taken into account (because it’s some­times too stressful for autistic people to feel so much), then the high risk of sui­cide should also be com­pre­hen­sible to laypeople.

What is vital is that we research and dis­sem­i­nate strate­gies to pro­tect our­selves and others from the risk of sui­cide. Our envi­ron­ment must be changed, because it cannot be that bul­lies may destroy us simply for living our.

I quote in con­clu­sion Griffiths et al. (2019)..:

Improved sup­port, advice and advo­cacy ser­vices are needed to reduce the vul­ner­a­bility of autistic adults to neg­a­tive life expe­ri­ences, which may in turn improve mental health and life sat­is­fac­tion in this pop­u­la­tion.

I am curious whether this will happen.

“Etiam periere ruinae” (“even the ruins have per­ished”). Latin quo­ta­tion in the con­text of Julius Caesar’s con­tem­pla­tion of what he believed to be the ruins of Troy.


Autism employ­ment gap — National Autistic Society. (2016). Retrieved from–10-27-employment-gap.aspx

Cassini, A., Högberg, L. D., Plachouras, D., Quattrocchi, A., Hoxha, A., Simonsen, G. S., Colomb-Cotinat, M., et al. (2019). Attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years caused by infec­tions with antibiotic-resistant bac­teria in the EU and the European Economic Area in 2015 : a population-level mod­el­ling analysis. Lancet Infectious dis­eases, 19(1), 56–66. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(18)30605–4

Cage, E., & Troxell-Whitman, Z. (2019). Understanding the Reasons, Contexts and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults. Journal of autism and devel­op­mental dis­or­ders, 49(5), 1899–1911. doi:10.1007/s10803-018–03878‑x

Feltham, C. (2016). Depressive Realism: Interdisciplinary per­spec­tives. London, England: Routledge.

Griffiths, S., Allison, C., Kenny, R., Holt, R., Smith, P., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2019). The Vulnerability Experiences Quotient (VEQ): A Study of Vulnerability, Mental Health and Life Satisfaction in Autistic Adults. Autism research : offi­cial journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 12(10), 1516–1528. doi:10.1002/aur.2162

Hirvikoski, T., Boman, M., Chen, Q., D’Onofrio, B. M., Mittendorfer-Rutz, E., Lichtenstein, P., Bölte, S., Larsson, H. (2019). Individual risk and familial lia­bility for sui­cide attempt and sui­cide in autism: a population-based study. Psychological Medicine, 1–12. doi: 10.1017/S0033291719001405

IAN Research Report: Bullying and Children with ASD. (2012). Retrieved from

Singer, K. (1991). Spiegel, Schwert und Edelstein: Strukturen des japanis­chen Lebens. Frankfurt a.M., Germany: Suhrkamp.

Sussman, G. D. (2011). Was the Black Death in India and China? Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 85(3), 319–355. doi:10.1353/bhm.2011.0054

Weiss, J. A., & Fardella, M. A. (2018). Victimization and Perpetration Experiences of Adults With Autism. Frontiers in psy­chi­atry, 9, 203. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00203

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  1. I com­pletely agree. Look at Greta though — I think she is a great role model for an Aspie not taking that wilful igno­rance as accept­able and doing what she can. Though I dont know how she does it with sen­sory pro­cessing in crowds, con­fer­ences, speeches etc..
    People just want to keep their head in the sand — and look at us like there is some­thing wrong with us when we look around and see real chal­lenges we need to face now as a species — to con­tinue phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally.

    We do need to end poverty, envi­ron­mental harm, family abuse, war, abuse of power, animal abuse, global warming, cap­i­talism, dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex, class, race, eth­nicity, age, gender, ability, iden­tity, neu­rology, etc.. and actu­ally live up to cre­ating equal human rights for equal quality of life, and actu­ally lifting others up who need it, re-distributing resources, edu­ca­tion, power, so we arnt cre­ating future gen­er­a­tions of people acting out of the pain these things cause. We do need to all look at our­selves, as humanity on this planet and ask our­selves why we arnt living up to our values of kind­ness, gen­erosity, hon­esty, integrity that we all love in our books, films, heroes, hearts and chil­dren. We can actu­ally create an earth that is sus­tain­able, and based on human basic values, rights and dig­ni­ties, so why on earth wouldnt we?

    I feel like aspies just always see the ‘ele­phant in the room’. All the unsaid things, all the unad­dressed issues — it all crowds in, its always there. It looks so clearly wrong. And people are saying it will be fine, ‘shving things under the rug, silencing and shaming, or get­ting defen­sive and hateful it you chal­lenge their com­pla­cency and sense of com­fort.

  2. I appre­ciate your putting into words what I think many autis­tics see and think. I know I’m not the only one now.

  3. Wow, that sounds like me. I’m also called “serious” when I’m just being real­istic. I also feel like people just give nice sounding plat­i­tudes instead of being honest about the world. While I want to be opti­mistic, it seems like the only way to do that is to com­pletely ignore reality. It’s nice to hear someone else put that feeling into words (though “nice” might not be the right word for it).

  4. I’ve has so many stupid replies to things I’ve said, The worst was
    ‘OH, I think you are awful for remem­bering that!” (Um sorry, my for­get­tery is not working!)
    ‘Don’t let it bother you!” (sorry my bother blocker is not working!)
    I have learned to try to stop sharing my thoughts.
    However I do think that most people are obliv­ious to the bleeding obvious. That’s how they stay happy.

  5. My favorite article on depres­sive realism was, and still is:
    Langer, E. J. & Roth, J. (1975). Heads I win, tails it’s chance: The illu­sion of con­trol as a func­tion of the sequence of out­comes in a purely chance task. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34, 191–198.

    1. Author

      Thank you for the reading tip! I did not know this paper yet.

      1. It’s not explic­itly about depres­sive realism, but it says lots about the illu­sion of con­trol. I’m very ADHD and Asperger’s, have mas­sive amounts of anx­iety, and tend to be obsessed with the same thoughts you artic­u­lated. Knowledge, learning, humanity, and so on… It’s time con­suming, exhausting, and alter­nately sat­is­fying and nul­li­fying. And it is totally crazy that humans are such a shitty species, for all that we are capable of.

  6. If you want a better, more worth­while world? Be pre­pared to fight con­for­ma­tional bias, Pavlovian dog trained responses, in a word what people grew up with, and are thus most com­fort­able with when such responses only serve those who trained them in.

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