The Link between Depression and Autism 

A few studies have established a link between antidepressants and autism. If a mother-to-be takes antidepressants during pregnancy, it may increase the chances that the child will be diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger syndrome.

depressed pregnancyThe scanning of 145,000 pregnancies and births health records from 1998 to 2009 in Quebec have supported the findings of the University of Montreal whose researchers are leading the scientific discovery on this topic. Mothers who took antidepressants and especially those who took  selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors were more likely to give birth to children with autism than those who didn’t. A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics reinforces this theory. Anick Bérard, a co-author of this study and professor of pharmacy at the University of Montreal, states that “it is biologically plausible that anti-depressants are causing autism if used at the time of brain development in the womb, as serotonin is involved in numerous pre- and postnatal developmental processes, including cell division, the migration of neurons, cell differentiation and synaptogenesis – the creation of links between brain cells”. 

This study aims to call our attention to the risks and benefits of what we’re doing. After weighing the possible consequences of taking antidepressants medicine, women may want to find other alternatives and rather find release through exercise or therapy that are also said to alleviate depression. To their honor, some key personalities from the pharmaceutical field such as Sarah Spencer, a spokeswoman for drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, are courageously raising their voices to encourage women to seek further professional advice before taking antidepressants, “recognizing that for some the benefits of therapy may continue to outweigh the potential risks.” 

Some other studies conducted in Sweden and California came to the same conclusion. However, all of them are not winning approval of the masses. Although autism is said to partially be the result of genetics and environmental factors, scientists don’t have a full understanding of what causes autism. Experts state that there is no tangible evidence that not treating depression is safer than taking antidepressants medication. “There’s no good study design to tease those apart,” said Siobhan Dolan, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who isn’t involved in the study. “It’s not that ‘medication is bad and being a depressed mother is a perfectly fine outcome.’ There’s an impact of having depression and trying to raise a child.”

Andrew Solomon, acclaimed expert and renowned Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, says “the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”. Vitality is commonly defined as the power of giving continuance of life and present in all living things. So perhaps being fully alive and living a vital life is a good way to reduce the chances of our children being affected by autism later on.

By Yaël Sebag

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