I came across this article a couple of days ago (dated June 19th), sourced from the University of Bristol, and decided to offer my evaluation and perspective on it.
The short answer is: This is pretty obvious and makes sense.
Just over 6,000 children were studied as part of a longer-term study, the Children of the 90s study. I think the children are a mix of autistic and NT because the parents were recruited during pregnancy. The UK's population is around 65.6 million, with approximately 20% being children; the NAS estimates that there are around 700,000 autistic people (adults and children) in the UK. These statistics are not completely accurate as we don't know how many undiagnosed autistics there are in the country, but it has some use as a general guide. It is certainly a big enough study for the results to be considered significant, and it is feasible to extrapolate this for the UK population as a whole (although other factors for bullying come into play, such as socioeconomic status, co-existing medical conditions and disabilities, race, religion and so on). I would very much like to see a much bigger survey done to show whether this study's findings do accurately reflect the broader picture.
The article states that: "The researchers did not find any link between having higher genetic tendencies towards autism and depressive symptoms" and Dr James Cusack is quoted in the article that: "it was bullying rather than genetic differences which drove an increase in depressive symptoms in autistic people".
The evidence demonstrates that it is not anything to do with the autistic structure or chemical balance of the brain, and that the increases in mental health problems among autistic children comes from external factors, not something internal such as biological or neurological factors. In short, autism does not cause mental illnesses, external factors do.
Some autistics will be more prone to depression and mental illness due to other genetics coming into play, so that should be noted, but those alone are not as a direct result of autism.
This study makes it pretty clear that far more should be done to prevent bullying because bullying is a substantial factor in the development of depression and the researchers have, rightly in my opinion, remarked on this.
Dr Deeraj Rai:
"[T]hese findings suggest that focusing on the role of traumatic experiences such as bullying and interventions targeting these, could be important and may have the potential to make a real difference to the wellbeing of autistic people."
Dr James Cusack:
"We now urgently need to carefully understand bullying and other traumatic experiences in autistic people as we're now finding they can have a devastating impact."
Additionally, due to our social and communication difficulties/differences, we are more vulnerable to being bullied, according to Dr Alan Emond.
So why is this? Personal experience and discussions I've seen in various autistic spaces suggests that it is because other children pick up on the fact that we are different, and use it against us. Different is seen as bad and undesirable. I was frequently labelled "weird", "strange" and other variants. I could not connect with the others on a social level in a way that the NT children could.
Emond suggests that:
"To protect autistic children and young people a whole school approach is needed to prevent bullying, coupled with targeted support for vulnerable individuals."
In short, yes. What we as a society need to be doing is teaching ALL children that bullying is wrong. That is where the problem lies. It's not the autism that causes the depression, it's the bullying from others because we're different. If all children were taught that bullying is wrong and being cruel to someone because they're different (or any other reason) is wrong, that it is socially unacceptable, it would be reduced, and thus fewer autistics (and, to be fair, other children generally) would become depressed. This is why we need autism acceptance. If autism was more normalised in social terms (such as behaviours not being labelled 'strange' or 'weird', and our way of being less remarkable) people would hopefully be less inclined to target us for that. Society needs to stop victim-blaming us for being bullying targets (eg. people, particularly teachers, parents and others in positions of authority, saying things such as, "If you don't flap your hands people won't pick on you") and start targeting the real issue, which is the bullying, which is cause by attitudes, negative beliefs and a degree of tribalism (the "us and them" mentality, where people who do not fit with a group's preferences are excluded). Society needs to stop forcing us to change, often at the expense of our mental wellbeing, when it is not us who are behaving problematically.
This article is important and significant, and needs to be heeded and acted upon.
Also, better knowledge and understanding of autism, particularly in girls is urgently needed - I didn't know until I was 23 that I was autistic, diagnosed age 28, and one of the biggest reasons I slipped through the net was because I'm female and autism is still very much seen as a "male" condition.
I was bullied for years because I was "different"; all the others around me picked up on it and targeted me. I thought I/my brain was broken. If I'd known when I was younger why I was different and that I was autistic, I would have understood myself far better and wouldn't have hated myself so much or thought I was broken.
Footnote: after a number of years of distancing themselves from Autism $peaks, it has recently emerged that Autistica seems to be getting back into bed with them in terms of research funding and projects. The autistic community is very disappointed to see this and does not endorse it.