Depressive Realism

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

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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9 Responses

  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. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 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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