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 suffer 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 are using a method called ‘psychological autopsy’ to find out more about 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 data they gather will help the team better understand the differences between suicide in the general population and in autistic people. Shedding new light on why suicide is more common in autism will lead to new strategies to prevent suicide in autistic people.

The research process

Sarah and her team are gathering information from over 400 cases of suicide in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire. So far, they have found evidence of autism in 11% of these cases.

As well as understanding the rate of autism in UK suicides, the team also want to find out whether autistic people have a different set of risk factors compared to non-autistic people.

The team are interviewing 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 the circumstances were leading up to the suicide

How this project is making a difference

We’re determined to stop avoidable deaths in autism. The results of this work with be used to design new ways of preventing suicide in autistic people.