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

Study launched to understand why autistic people may be more at risk of mental health issues

autismA nationwide online study has been launched that aims to understand why autistic people may be more at risk of depression and suicide than the general population.

Researchers from Coventry University and the University of Cambridge are calling for adults with or without a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder to take part.

The team from Mental Health Autism, a research group based in Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, hopes the results will enable them to create the first assessment tools for health organisations, service providers and clinicians to quickly assess if an autistic patient is at risk of suicide and to enable them to receive the correct support and treatment.

Recent research from the team revealed that up to 66% of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome consider suicide at some point in their lives, compared to 17% of the general population.

Another large study revealed that autistic people are much more at risk of dying by suicide than those without the condition. However, there is little research to understand why this is and how it can be addressed.

The survey covers topics including people’s employment experience, satisfaction with living arrangements and any diagnoses, treatment or support offered. It will run for the next three months and the expectation is that preliminary results will be available from June.

There will also be a series of events this year aiming to ensure the research and issues explored within it make the agendas of service providers, policy makers and researchers, nationally and worldwide.

The Economic and Social Research Council, National Institute of Health Research and Autistica have funded the research.

Dr Sarah Cassidy, lead researcher for atypical development at Coventry University, said: “Despite evidence that adults with ASC [autism spectrum condition] are at significantly increased risk of suicide, there is very little research in this area to inform ways to prevent or treat mental health problems and suicide risk in these individuals.

“By taking part in this research you will be helping us understand mental health problems, self-injury and thoughts of ending life in those with and without a diagnosis of ASC, and what could make a real difference in reducing these difficulties. This will be the first study of its kind, and will really help guide service providers in supporting people with ASC who experience these difficulties.”

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, lead collaborator at the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University, added: “This work is vital if we are to prevent the personal and family tragedy that every suicide causes.”

To take part in the survey click here.

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