It has been known for some time that Autistic people experience suicidal thoughts, ideation, and attempts at a much higher rate than the general population, but one recent piece of commentary paints a stark image of Autistic suffering.
South et al (2021) discuss the field of Autistic suicide prevalence. One of the most uncomfortable truths in their writing comes from Kõlves et al (2021). This study found the incidence rate of auicide attempts and deaths amongst Autistics to be over 3 times higher than the general population. This figure was higher still for Autistic women and Autistics with co-occuring psychiatric conditions.
Why is this?
In general, Autistics have to cope everyday with a system that by its very nature traumatises the Autistic mind. We are forced to mask who we are just to survive.
Just 22% of Autistics are in any kind of employment (Office for National Statistics, 2021), a disturbing figure when you consider that for many, having a job dictates your access to physical and mental health care.
This feeds neatly into the idea of minority stress. Dr Monique Botha-Kite has done some great work in this field and I recommend checking out the live session that Dr Botha-Kite did with Aucademy on the topic.
Botha and Frost (2018) found that as an identity-based minority, Autistic people experience increased social stress throughout their lives. This has a range of impacts that I won’t get into here, but I highly recommend checking out the study here.
We also can not ignore the intersections with the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities, which represent a huge quantity of the community. Both of these communities experience their own minority stress, and we need to familiarise ourselves with how these different stressor interact with and potentiate each other.
The world is not designed for Autistics. It is a harsh environment that is actively killing our people. But what can be done about it?
We need to improve the diagnostic process and post-diagnostic support. Currently many Autistic people wait too long for a diagnosis that comes with exactly zero help.
We need to improve access to mental health and substance use treatment. Clinicians working within these services need to be not only aware of the neurodiversity movement, but actively engaging with and supporting it.
In fact, all professionals working with Autistic people need to be engaging with and supporting the neurodiversity movement.
Everyone needs to familiarise themselves with the unique intersection of BIPOC and Autistic experiences.
Autistic people need improved access to support for LGBTQIA+ issues such as gender dysphoria.
These are a few suggestions that I believe could help improve the suicide rate for Autistic people by improving their quality of life.
It is clear that the neurodiversity movement still has quite a distance to go, but I firmly believe that slowly but surely, we will get to where we are going.