17th Nov, 2018

Rates of suicide 'worryingly high' in autism, say Coventry experts

Emily Fish 26th May, 2017

SUICIDE rates among people with autism in England have reached “worryingly” high levels, according to clinical experts.

Researchers from Coventry and Newcastle are arguing that the issue surrounding suicides in autism remains poorly understood and are urging for action to be taken to help those most at risk.

Dr Sarah Cassidy from Coventry University cites a clinical study she led in 2014 in which 66 per cent of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) reported having contemplated suicide.

In the same study, which remains the most recent clinical research into the issue, 35 per cent of the 365 respondents newly diagnosed with AS said they had planned or attempted to end their own life – with 31 per cent reporting they suffered depression.

A similar study in Sweden last year also concluded that suicide is a leading cause of premature death in people with autism spectrum disorder.

Dr Cassidy said: “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.

“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 behaviours might be quite different.”

She added how co-researchers believe the best practise for assessing and treating suicides need to be reviewed for those with autism.

Co-author Dr Jacqui Rodgers from Newcastle University said: “This unique event is of huge importance.

“For the first time researchers and clinicians from the fields of autism and suicide research will come together, along with members of the autism community and those bereaved by suicide, to learn from each other and identify clinical and research priorities to address this urgent issue.”

Jon Spiers, chief executive of autism research charity Autistica, said: “For years society and the healthcare system have ignored the voices of families who have lost autistic loved ones unnecessarily, and far too young.

“National and local government, research funders and industry, as well as the NHS and service providers all have a responsibility to tackle the issue of suicide in autism.

“Autistica is committed to playing a major part by funding mental health research programmes and this suicide summit will kick-start our campaign for change in this severely overlooked area.”

Coventry and Newcastle universities are running the international summit on suicide in autism – the first of its kind worldwide – today, following on from yesterday (May 25) with funding from Autistica and the James Lind Alliance.

The aim is to develop recommendations for changes in government policy and practise that can be implemented quickly to reduce suicide in autism, and to decide on priorities for future research in the field.

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