Background: Research has shown high rates of suicidality in autism spectrum conditions (ASC), but there is lack of research into why this is the case. Many common experiences of autistic adults, such as depression or unemployment, overlap with known risk markers for suicide in the general population. However, it is unknown whether there are risk markers unique to ASC that require new tailored suicide prevention strategies.
Methods: Through consultation with a steering group of autistic adults, a survey was developed aiming to identify unique risk markers for suicidality in this group. The survey measured suicidality (SBQ-R), non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI-AT), mental health problems, unmet support needs, employment, satisfaction with living arrangements, self-reported autistic traits (AQ), delay in ASC diagnosis, and 'camouflaging' ASC. One hundred sixty-four autistic adults (65 male, 99 female) and 169 general population adults (54 males, 115 females) completed the survey online.
Results: A majority of autistic adults (72%) scored above the recommended psychiatric cut-off for suicide risk on the SBQ-R; significantly higher than general population (GP) adults (33%). After statistically controlling for a range of demographics and diagnoses, ASC diagnosis and self-reported autistic traits in the general population significantly predicted suicidality. In autistic adults, non-suicidal self-injury, camouflaging, and number of unmet support needs significantly predicted suicidality.
Conclusions: Results confirm previously reported high rates of suicidality in ASC, and demonstrate that ASC diagnosis, and self-reported autistic traits in the general population are independent risk markers for suicidality. This suggests there are unique factors associated with autism and autistic traits that increase risk of suicidality. Camouflaging and unmet support needs appear to be risk markers for suicidality unique to ASC. Non-suicidal self-injury, employment, and mental health problems appear to be risk markers shared with the general population that are significantly more prevalent in the autistic community. Implications for understanding and prevention of suicide in ASC are discussed.
Keywords: Anxiety; Autism spectrum condition; Autistic traits; Depression; Mental health; NSSI; NSSI-AT; Non-suicidal self-injury; Risk markers; SBQ-R; Suicidality.