Adults with Asperger Syndrome May Experience Increase Risk of Suicidal Thoughts

Dr Sarah Cassidy PhD Autism Research Centre,Department of Psychiatry University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Interview with:
Dr Sarah Cassidy PhD
Autism Research Centre,Department of Psychiatry
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Cassidy: We found that adults with late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (31 years on average), were at significantly higher risk of contemplating suicide during their lifetime (66%) than those from the general UK population (17%), and a sample of patients with Psychosis (59%).

We also found that adults diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome with a history of depression, were significantly more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and suicide plans or attempts, than those with Asperger Syndrome without a history of depression.  A higher level of autistic traits was also a significant risk factor for having planned or attempted suicide. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Cassidy: We found that the odds of experiencing suicidal thoughts in adults with late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome is over nine times higher than in the general UK population.  This is striking, and confirms anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger Syndrome have a high risk of suicide. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Cassidy: Adults with Asperger Syndrome experience many risk factors for depression and suicide, including lack of support services, poor health outcomes, social exclusion, under-achievement, and unemployment.  This risk is preventable with the appropriate support, and demonstrates the need for high quality services for these individuals.. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Cassidy: Our study included individuals with very late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome in adulthood (31 years old on average). Delay in diagnosis could be an additional risk factor for suicide.  The patient questionnaire used in our study included both plans and attempts at suicide in the same question, so it was not possible to disentangle these two related but distinct outcomes, or compare the rate of these to other samples.  It will be necessary to explore whether individuals with Asperger Syndrome are significantly more likely to plan or attempt suicide than other clinical groups, or whether these individuals are more likely to attempt suicide without planning. In addition to the social factors known to predispose to depression, the cognitive profile of people with Asperger’s syndrome might further increase the rate and risk of suicidality. For example, cognitive flexibility can be impaired, and might mediate some of the increased suicidality.


Suicidal ideation and suicide plans or attempts in adults with Asperger’s syndrome attending a specialist diagnostic clinic: a clinical cohort study
Dr Sarah Cassidy PhD,Paul Bradley MRCPsych,Janine Robinson DClinPsy,Carrie Allison PhD,Meghan McHugh BSc,Prof Simon Baron-Cohen PhD
The Lancet Psychiatry – 25 June 2014
DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70248-2

Last Updated on June 26, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD