Suicide is a leading cause of early death for autistic people. We’re determined to stop avoidable deaths in autism.

Dr Sarah Cassidy is heading up the first study in the world to find out why autistic people have a higher risk of suicide and to help design ways of preventing it.

Explaining the need for this project

Autistic people are much more likely to struggle with from poor mental health and consider suicide, but there is little research into why this is.

Studies have shown that up to 66% of autistic adults have thought about taking their own life, and an alarming 35% have attempted suicide. Around 1% of people in the UK are autistic, yet up to 15% of people hospitalised after attempting suicide have a diagnosis of autism.

Sarah and her team used a psychological autopsy method to discover why autistic people are more likely to die from suicide. This involves gathering information about people who have died from suicide from:

  • coroners’ inquests
  • medical records
  • interviews with friends and families

The research process

Sarah and her team gathered information from over 400 cases of suicide in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire. And found evidence of autism in 11% of these cases.

As well as understanding the rate of autism in UK suicides, the team also wanted to determine whether autistic people have different risk factors than non-autistic people.

The team interviewed family members and friends of those suicides with evidence of autism. They want to find out more about:

  • the person’s autism
  • whether they had any co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety
  • what were the circumstances leading up to the suicide

The research findings

Findings showed that autistic traits are overrepresented in people who died by suicide and that between 11-41% of those who die by suicide may be autistic or have autistic traits.

The study has shown the importance of screening for possible undiagnosed autism in people presenting with suicidal thoughts and behaviours and in coroners’ inquests. Not all people communicated their thoughts and plans around suicide, so it is essential to find ways of identifying and supporting autistic people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide.