I was recently sent a BBC article regarding multiple deaths of Autistic young people occurring despite coroners issuing “prevention of future death” (PFD) notices. These notices are only issued when a person’s death is the result of systemic failings and are issued when changes need to be made in order to prevent future deaths. The BBC article looked through 4,000 PFD notices over the past 10 years, and what they found is harrowing.
What is the risk of suicide amongst Autistic young people?
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Autistic children in the UK are 28× more likely to think about or attempt suicide compared to their neurotypical peers. This could be for a number of reasons, but I believe that trauma plays the biggest role in this. Autistic young people and adults experience traumatic events at a higher rate than non-Autistic people. From communication invalidation, to sensory trauma, even good old fashion gaslighting. Autistic people have a rough experience of the world.
It is unsurprising then that Autistic young people, whome some research estimates 94% are victims of bullying, so regularly experience such an inordinately high rate of suicidal ideation and attempts. We also have to consider that Autistic people often exist at the intersections of race, sexuality and gender, other disability, and class. As a result of this, their mistreatment may be compounded by multiple forms of marginalisation.
Why are CAMHS important to preventing the deaths of Autistic young people?
As mentioned previously, Autistic children and young people are significantly more likely to experience suicidal ideation or attempts. Where their is suicidal ideation, there is often psychological distress. I’m fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation; 7 in 10 Autistic people have a diagnosable mental health concern. From this, I infer that over two-thirds of Autistic children and young people need support from CAMHS.
Despite this very high rate of suicide and suicidal ideation, and mental health concerns, only around 10% of patients under CAMHS are Autistic. This represents a large disparity between the accessibility of services for Autistic and non-Autistic groups. This disparity is indicative of wider systemic failings in the support of Autistic children and young people and is supported by the BBC’s findings in PFD notices.
How are CAMHS failing Autistic children and young people?
In her Prevention of Future Death notice to NHS Kent and Medway, coroner Catherine Wood said Sammy fell during an “episode of high risk behaviour” and criticised the local authority and mental health services for “inadequate support”.Quote from the above linked BBC article
She also made it clear that it was “predictable that a similar incident may arise… if children with complex neurodevelopmental needs are excluded from accessing the care and treatment they require to keep them safe”.
The BBC investigation found 51 prevention of further death notices that pertained to the deaths of Autistic children and young people. 51 may not sound much amongst a group of 4,000, but it is. According to the National Autistic Society, over 1 in 100 (1%) people in the UK are Autistic. Of the PFD notices investigated by the BBC, around 1.3% were Autistic. This indicates to me that Autistic people are better represented in deaths regarding systemic failing than they are in the general population.
The screenshot below elaborates on some of the reasons found that control used to the loss of Autistic lives:
What does this mean for CAMHS and Autistic wellbeing?
As I have discussed in previous articles about CAMHS; it is not enough to simply get through the doors at these services. We need them to be restructured and invigorated with new life. In their current form, CAMHS is not fit for purpose. Too many Autistic children and young people are losing their lives, and those lives are at the feet of a CAMHS that has time and again failed to do what it exists to do.
Autistic children deserve the same chance at a happy and meaningful life as any other child. CAMHS are not enabling that.