The more research we do, the clearer it becomes that mental health issues have a huge impact on autistic people. That’s why this year it has, once more, been a major focus for us. 

We’ve studied why autistic people are more likely to feel depressed and suicidal, looked at their experiences of getting mental health treatment, and we’ve launched two new mental health projects for the year ahead. 

Read on to find out what we’ve been up to.

Why are some autistic people at higher risk of suicide?

Research shows suicide rates are higher in autistic people. This year we launched the first study into why.

We worked with a team of autistic people to develop an online survey which was completed by two groups of people, one with autism, and one without. It was the first time the two had been compared in this way, and it helped us understand which causes of suicidal thoughts are unique to autistic people. 

One risk factor that stood out in the results was ‘camouflaging’. This is when autistic people change the way they act in front of other people to cover up their condition. It was also clear that autistic people are more likely to feel suicidal when they miss out on support. Our findings should create a better understanding of how to prevent autistic people from getting to the point where they feel suicidal.     

Read the full study by Cassidy et al. 

Self-injury in the autistic community

Rates of self-harm are relatively high in autistic people. In this study we used a special tool to find out more about why autistic people are self-harming, and what helps them recover. 

We learned that self-harm is often used to cope with feelings of depression, dissociation (a feeling of detachment from yourself or your surroundings), anger or anxiety. It is also used by autistic people when they can’t identify or express their emotions. 

The feedback will help professionals recognise when autistic people might be at risk of self-harming, and the best way to support them. 

Read the full study by Mosely et al. 

Getting the wrong diagnosis

A number of case reports show autistic people getting the wrong mental health diagnosis. To find out why, we surveyed 420 adults (both autistic and non-autistic) about their experiences of being diagnosed.

Autistic people were less likely to agree with a mental health diagnosis, and this was often because they didn’t feel their healthcare professional understood their condition, or how to communicate with them properly.

Thanks to this feedback we know that more autism awareness training is needed for health professionals, along with tools to help when diagnosing mental health issues in autistic people.     

Read the full report by Au-Yeung et al. 

Treatment and support for mental health problems

We developed an online survey to find out what it’s like getting treatment and support for mental health problems, self-harm and suicidal feelings as an autistic person.

It was clear from the 200 responses that lack of the right treatment and support is having a serious impact on well-being, and can even make autistic people feel suicidal. But we also found out that treatment and support work well when they are tailored to individuals. 

Read the full report by Camm-Crosbie et all. 

2020 and beyond

Thanks to our amazing supporters, we have funding for two new projects around mental health in the year ahead.

We’ve done two studies on vulnerability in autism – looking at mental health and schools. Now we’re going to use these studies to produce new policy guidelines that can be used in the community, in education and beyond, to make autistic people less vulnerable. 

Last, but most certainly not least, we’ll be looking into how much of an impact autism-friendly employment has on mental health. Hopefully, our findings will help us work out some changes that can be easily made in any workplace, that could transform the day to day lives of many autistic people. 

We can’t wait to get started. 

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