Adults with Aspergers test
Recent findings highlight a staggering rate of suicidal thoughts among adults with Asperger’s syndrome.
“Depression is an important potential risk factor for suicidal thoughts in people with this condition, ” said psychologist and study author Dr. Sarah Cassidy, a researcher at the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Cambridge, U.K.
The research team states in the journal Lancet Psychiatry that Asperger’s syndrome in adulthood is often linked to depression. So they set out to explore the extent of suicidal thoughts and plans in this group.
Survey data was used on 256 men and 118 women who were diagnosed by a clinician with Asperger’s syndrome between 2004 and 2013 in England. Any depression, suicidal thoughts, or plans were recorded on a self-report questionnaire, along with self-reported autistic traits and empathy.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of the respondents reported suicidal thoughts, 35 percent reported plans or attempts at suicide, and 31 percent reported depression.
Compared with the general population, adults with Asperger’s syndrome were nearly 10 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts. They were also significantly more likely to have these thoughts than people with one, two, or more medical illnesses, or people with a psychotic illness.
Those with Asperger’s syndrome and depression were four times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and suicide plans or attempts than those with Asperger’s syndrome but without depression. Having a higher level of self-reported autistic traits was also linked to a greater risk.
In their paper, the team says it is “puzzling” that more people in this sample reported lifetime experience of suicidal thoughts (66 percent) than were depressed (31 percent). One explanation could be under-reporting of depression, perhaps because of the difficulties verbally describing subjective emotional experience often seen in Asperger’s.
“Our findings lend support to depression as an important potential risk factor for suicidality in adults with this condition, ” write the authors.
“Because adults with Asperger’s syndrome often have many risk factors for secondary depression, our findings emphasize the need for appropriate service planning to reduce risk in this clinical group.”
Patients’ depression and risk of suicide are preventable with the appropriate support, the authors add.