According to new research by the University of Cambridge, a significant number of people who died by suicide were likely autistic but went undiagnosed, emphasizing the critical need for earlier diagnosis and tailored suicide prevention support. Suicide rates in autistic people are unacceptably high, and suicide prevention must be the number one priority in order to reduce the alarmingly high mortality rate in autistic people. Baron-Cohen, Simon’s team of researchers led by Dr. Sarah Cassidy of the University of Nottingham and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge is the first to look for signs of autism and autistic traits in people who committed suicide in England. They examined inquest records from 372 people who died by suicide and interviewed family members of those who died.
The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry today. The researchers discovered that 10% of those who died by suicide had elevated autistic traits, indicating undiagnosed autism. This is 11 times the rate of autism in the
. To identify the records, the research team collaborated with Coroners’ offices in two regions of England. The team began by reviewing the coroners’ inquests for each suicide death for signs of elevated autistic traits, which could indicate undiagnosed autism or a definite diagnosis of autism. An independent researcher then reviewed the evidence of autism to ensure that these decisions were reliable.
The researchers then interviewed 29 of the families in order to gather additional evidence to support the elevated autistic traits in those who died. After speaking with the families, the researchers discovered that more people who died by suicide (41 percent) had elevated autistic traits, which is 19 times higher than the rate of autism in the UK. Previous research by the same group found that up to 66 percent of autistic adults have considered suicide, and 35 percent have attempted suicide. Although only about 1% of people in the UK are autistic, up to 15% of people hospitalized after attempting suicide have a diagnosis of autism. Previous research has also discovered that both diagnosed autistic people and those with elevated autistic traits are more prone to mental health issues, suicidal thoughts, and behaviors.
The new study goes beyond this by examining Coroner’s records pertaining to people who have committed suicide. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social and communication skills, as well as difficulties adapting to unexpected change, as well as heightened sensory sensitivity, unusually deep interests in specific topics, and a preference for predictability. There are numerous barriers to receiving an autism diagnosis, including a lack of diagnostic services, which leads to long waiting lists. Even after a diagnosis, autistic people have insufficient support services.” Many adults in the UK find it very difficult to obtain an autism diagnosis and appropriate post-diagnosis support,” said Dr. Sarah Cassidy.
According to our findings, undiagnosed autistic people may be at a higher risk of suicide.”It is critical that access to an autism diagnosis and appropriate post-diagnosis support be improved.” This is the highest priority for the autism community in terms of suicide prevention, and it must be addressed immediately by service commissioners and policymakers.””Even a single suicide is a terrible tragedy for the person and a traumatic loss for their families and friends,” Professor Simon Baron-Cohen added. Suicide rates in autistic people are unacceptably high, and suicide prevention must be the number one priority in order to reduce the alarmingly high mortality rate in autistic people.
“Autistic people die 20 years earlier than non-autistic people on average, and two major causes of this are suicide and epilepsy.” We published preliminary data on increased suicide rates in 2014 as a wake-up call to governments, but nothing has changed.”In England, evidence of an autism diagnosis or elevated autistic traits is not typically included in coroners’ inquests. This study emphasizes the importance of coroners beginning to systematically gather evidence of autism and autistic traits in inquests in order to help prevent future deaths. It is also critical to collaborate with the autism community to co-design suicide prevention services.