Volunteers needed to help understand and prevent suicide in autistic community

Researchers are looking for people to take part in a new study to better understand why autistic people may be more likely to take their own life, to help shape new ways to prevent future deaths by suicide.

The three-year project is being led by the University of Nottingham in partnership with Coventry University , and the University of Cambridge and is the first study of its kind. It aims to find out how many people who died by suicide in the UK were autistic (either diagnosed, or not yet diagnosed), and whether autistic people have unique needs which could be met, to prevent future deaths.

The project involves interviewing the friends and family of people who have died by suicide, who were either diagnosed with autism, or were likely autistic, but not diagnosed before they died. Friends and family are asked about the person who died, their medical history, early development, social communication skills, and circumstances prior to their death.

Results will identify new ways to prevent suicide in autistic people.

According to Autistica, autistic people are 9 times more likely to die by suicide and autistic children may be 28 times more likely to consider suicide, however until now there has been a lack of research to determine how to effectively prevent suicide in the autistic community.

In-depth understanding

Dr Sarah Cassidy at the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology is leading the study and working with coroners to better gather evidence of autism during inquests, to make recommendations to services and government and better prevent death by suicide in this vulnerable group. She explains why this new research is so important: “Speaking to those close to someone who died by suicide will give us important insights into why autistic people are more likely to die by suicide, and what can be done to prevent the tragic loss of even a single life. We understand this is a hugely sensitive area which is difficult to talk about, and are truly grateful to the families who come forward so we can help prevent others experience the same tragedy and pain from losing a loved one by suicide.”

Dr James Cusack, Director of Science at the charity Autistica who part-funded the project said: “Autistic people’s communication needs and sensory issues are different to non-autistic people’s and we know these and other health conditions can affect how accessible or effective services can be. Fully understanding why so many autistic people want to end their life is key in developing support that works for them. This is the first study to understand past deaths from suicide and the role of autism. By undertaking studies like this in partnership with researchers and autistic people we can begin to end the tragically high levels of suicide we see in autistic people.”

For further details and to take part, visit the project webpage or e-mail the research team: suicideprevention.hls [at] coventry.ac (p) uk

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