Adults who are diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome are nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those without the spectrum disorder. The study, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found 374 individuals diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome were at a high risk of suicide and depression compared to the rest of the generally healthy United Kingdom population.
"Our findings confirm anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger Syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this," Dr. Sarah Cassidy from the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University said in a press release.
Asperger’s syndrome is under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that define a distinct group of social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive behavior. However, Asperger’s is often not recognized before the age of 5 or 6 because language develops at a normal pace. However, lack of typical eye contact, body language, facial expression, and the inability to hold relationships with classmates or other age mates are key characteristics of the disorder.
UK researchers surveyed their study participants, which included 256 men and 118 women between 2004 and 2014 at the Cambridge Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS) clinic in Cambridge. They found that 66 percent of the group, who were all Asperger diagnosed, had contemplated suicide and 35 percent had planned or even attempted suicide at one point in their life. Only 17 percent of the general UK population had thoughts of suicide, which put Asperger patients at a nine times greater risk of suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the most common risk factors for suicide are depression, bi-polar disorder, alcohol or substance abuse, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and family history of attempted or completed suicide. Autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger’s, may be added onto the list of risk factors after it’s further researched.
The prevalence for those with Asperger’s is not well established because it’s a fairly young disease that was identified in 1944. Experts estimate that one in 88 children will have a varying severity on the spectrum of Asperger’s by the time they’re eight years of age, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Currently one in 100 people (700,000) fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Males are four times more likely to have Asperger’s than girls, which show the same gender favoritism in other autism disorders.
"Adults with Asperger Syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, under-achievement, and unemployment. Their depression and risk of suicide are preventable with the appropriate support,” said Simon Baron-Cohen, professor from the Autism Researcher Center at Cambridge University, and the CLASS clinic in the Cambridgeshire, in the press release. "This study should be a wake-up call for the urgent need for high quality services, to prevent the tragic waste of even a single life."
Source: Cassidy S, Baron-Cohen S, Bradley P, et al. Suicidal ideation and suicide plans or attempts in adultswith Asperger’s syndrome attending a specialist diagnostic clinic: a clinical cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2014.