Study reveals suicide risk of adults with Asperger Syndrome

CPFT expert issues urgent call for 'high-quality' services

Study reveals suicide risk of adults with Asperger Syndrome
26 June 2014

Adults with the autism spectrum condition known as Asperger Syndrome are nine times more likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts than people from the UK general population, according to the first large-scale clinical study of its kind published 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 Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS) clinic in Cambridge UK.

It revealed 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%).

The research, led by Dr Sarah Cassidy and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (right), from the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, and the CLASS clinic at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), found that two-thirds (66%) of adults with Asperger Syndrome had contemplated suicide and a third (35%) had planned or attempted suicide during their lifetime.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviours were significantly more common in adults with Asperger Syndrome and 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 to individuals with Asperger Syndrome but without a history of depression. A second risk factor for suicide plans or attempts was a higher level of autistic traits.

Dr Cassidy said: “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."

Professor Baron-Cohen added: “Adults with Asperger 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. ”

Dr Janine Robinson, a member of the research team, said: “Adults with Asperger Syndrome are suffering unnecessarily, given their potential to live fulfilling lives. This research provides the evidence-base for the need for a proper clinical pathway for adults with Asperger Syndrome.”

ENDS

For additional information about this release, contact:

Craig Brierley, Head of Research Communications
University of Cambridge
E craig.brierley@admin.cam.ac.uk
T 01223 766205 or 07957 468218

For more information regarding news and information about CPFT, contact:

Andy Burrows
Communications Manager
E andy.burrows@cpft.nhs.uk
T 01223 726767

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
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