Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Adults with Asperger’s syndrome more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, experts say

depressionAdults with Asperger’s syndrome are significantly more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than people from the general population, according to a clinical study.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, surveyed 374 individuals – 256 men and 118 women – diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as adults between 2004 and 2013 at the Cambridge Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS) clinic in Cambridge. It revealed a significantly higher rate of suicidal thoughts among adults with Asperger’s syndrome (66%), compared with the rate found in the general population (17%), and patients with psychosis (59%) taken from other data sources.

The research, led by Dr Sarah Cassidy and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and the CLASS clinic in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, also found that a third of adults with Asperger’s syndrome (35%) had planned or attempted suicide during their lifetime.

Further reading: Government launches suicide prevention strategy

Suicidal thoughts were found to be four times more common in adults with Asperger’s syndrome and a history of depression, while they were twice as likely to plan or attempt suicide, compared to those with Asperger’s syndrome but without a history of depression. A second risk factor for suicide plans or attempts was a higher level of autistic traits.

“Our findings confirm anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger’s syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this,” said Dr Cassidy.

Professor Baron-Cohen added: “Adults with Asperger’s syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, under-achievement, and unemployment. Their depression and risk of suicide are preventable with the appropriate support. This study should be a wake-up call for the urgent need for high quality services, to prevent the tragic waste of even a single life.”

To read the full article visit www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)70248-2/abstract

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