Adults with the autism spectrum condition known as Asperger Syndrome are nine times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than people from the general population, according to a large-scale study in the United Kingdom.
The findings were published June 24 in The Lancet Psychiatry.
The study surveyed 374 individuals (256 men and 118 women) diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as adults between 2004 and 2013 at the Cambridge (U.K.) Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service clinic. The survey found a significantly higher rate of suicidal ideation among adults with Asperger Syndrome (66%), compared with the rate found in the general population (17%) and patients with psychosis (59%) taken from other data sources.
The research was led by Sarah Cassidy, PhD, and Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, from the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, and the CLASS clinic in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. The findings showed 66% of adults with Asperger Syndrome had contemplated suicide and 35% had planned or attempted suicide during their lifetime. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors were significantly more common in adults with Asperger Syndrome who had a history of depression.
Among adults with Asperger Syndrome, those with depression were four times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and twice as likely to plan or attempt suicide, compared with individuals with Asperger Syndrome but without a history of depression, the researchers found. 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 Syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this, Cassidy said in a news release.
Adults with Asperger Syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, underachievement and unemployment, Baron-Cohen said in the release. 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.
Study abstract: www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)70248-2/abstract