Nationwide study to explore why people with autism more at risk of mental health problems

Research news

Friday 27 January 2017

Press contact

Press Team

Researchers are carrying out the first study of its kind aiming to understand why people with autism may be at risk of depression and suicide.

The team from Coventry University and the University of Cambridge has launched a nationwide online survey – and is calling on adults either with or without a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) to take part.

About 700,000 people in the UK have ASC, which is a lifelong developmental disability that affects people’s perceptions and interactions with others.

The team from Mental Health Autism, a research group based in the 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 a patient with ASC 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 per cent of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (a subgroup on the autism spectrum without language delay or learning disability) consider suicide at some point in their lives, compared to the national average of 17 per cent for the general population.

Another large study revealed that people with ASC 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 online survey covers topics including people’s employment experience, satisfaction with living arrangements and any diagnoses, treatment or support being offered.

The survey will run for the next three months and preliminary results are expected to be available from June.

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

The research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, National Institute of Health Research, and Autistica.
Dr Sarah Cassidy, lead researcher for atypical development at Coventry University, said:

Despite evidence that adults with ASC 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, the 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 visit: