Suicide rates among people with autism in England have reached “worryingly” high levels, say experts in a new paper published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.
Research has shown that suicide is a leading cause of premature death in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But the study authors from Coventry and Newcastle universities say the issue remains poorly understood and that action is urgently needed to help those most at risk.
“For years society and the health care system have ignored the voices of families who have lost autistic loved ones unnecessarily, and far too young. Recent research revealing the sheer scale of the problem proves that we cannot let that continue,” said Jon Spiers, chief executive of autism research charity Autistica.
In the paper, researcher Dr. Sarah Cassidy from Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement cited a clinical study she led in 2014 — also published in the Lancet Psychiatry — showing that 66 percent of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) had reported contemplating suicide.
In addition, only around 31 percent reported that they were depressed, indicating a different route to suicidality than in the general population. Those at greatest risk of suicide were women with autism without comorbid learning disability.
“What relatively little we know about suicidality in autism points to a worryingly high prevalence of people with the condition contemplating and attempting to take their own life,” said Cassidy.
“More concerning still, the small body of research that does exist exposes serious shortcomings in how prepared we are to intervene and provide effective support to those with autism who are most at risk of dying by suicide.”
“There are significant differences, for example, in the risk factors for suicide in autism compared with the general population, meaning the journey from suicidal thoughts to suicidal behaviors might be quite different.”
“The models we currently consider best practice for assessing and treating suicidality need to be rethought for those with autism, and policy adjusted accordingly so new approaches are reflected across services.”
The paper was published just before the researchers from Coventry and Newcastle universities held the world’s first international summit on suicidality in autism with funding from Autistica and the James Lind Alliance.
Their aim is to develop recommendations for changes in government policy and practice that can be implemented quickly to reduce suicide in autism, and to decide on priorities for future research in the field.
Source: Coventry University