depressionAdults with Asperger’s syndrome are significantly more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than people from the general population, according to a clinical study.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, surveyed 374 individuals – 256 men and 118 women – diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as adults between 2004 and 2013 at the Cambridge Lifetime Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS) clinic in Cambridge. It revealed a significantly higher rate of suicidal thoughts among adults with Asperger’s syndrome (66%), compared with the rate found in the general population (17%), and patients with psychosis (59%) taken from other data sources.

The research, led by Dr Sarah Cassidy and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and the CLASS clinic in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, also found that a third of adults with Asperger’s syndrome (35%) had planned or attempted suicide during their lifetime.

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Suicidal thoughts were found to be four times more common in adults with Asperger’s syndrome and a history of depression, while they were twice as likely to plan or attempt suicide, compared to those with Asperger’s syndrome but without a history of depression. A second risk factor for suicide plans or attempts was a higher level of autistic traits.

“Our findings confirm anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger’s syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this,” said Dr Cassidy.

Professor Baron-Cohen added: “Adults with Asperger’s 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. 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.”

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