Suicide rates 'worryingly high' in autistic people

Written by Rebecca Burrows

Vikie Shanks lives in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, with her seven children, six of whom are on the autistic spectrum. The seventh has severe dyslexia, and the youngest two also have cerebral palsy.

Alongside their condition, each child has also struggled with various mental health issues. They’ve had the support of their mum, who has had to bring them up on her own for the last ten years, as her husband Paul took his own life.

Paul had a number of complex mental health issues, but Vikie believes he was also on the autistic spectrum. She says, looking back, there were definite elements of autistic traits in his personality.

Vikie and her husband Paul Shanks Credit: Vikie Shanks

Vikie believes that one of the reasons an autistic person may feel suicidal is because the world around them does not always make sense to them.

The NHS describes autism as a condition which results in problems with communication and social interaction.

It is estimated that around 1 in every 100 people in the UK has autism. However, this number could be a lot higher as many autistic adults are undiagnosed.

Researchers from Coventry University looked into the issue of autism and suicidality. They found that two thirds of adults newly diagnosed with the condition had contemplated suicide. A third said they had planned or attempted to end their own life.

Vikie Shanks with her seven children Credit: Vikie Shanks

Dr Sarah Cassidy, who conducted the research alongside Newcastle University, said it is not clear why autistic people may feel suicidal.

She said it is an issue which remains poorly understood and that action is urgently needed to help those at risk:

Autism research charity Autistica believes the issue of suicide in autism has been severely overlooked.

They produced a report last year which highlighted how autistic people are dying 16 years before their time, with leading causes of early death being suicide and epilepsy.

They are calling on the government, as well as the NHS, to tackle the issue.

In response, the Department of Health provided us with the following statement:

Mirie, Lorie and Nikita are very positive about their autism Credit: ITV News Central

The following organisations can offer advice and support if you have been affected by any of the issues in this article:

  • The National Autistic Society is a charity which offers supports and aims to improve the lives of autistic people.

  • The Samaritans operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, if you want to talk to someone in confidence.

  • Mind is a mental health charity which has lots of information and support on various mental health problems.

Autistica has produced a leaflet on autism and mental health which you can view here.

They have also created an autistic friendly guide on mental health, which you can see below: