Identifying Targets to Prevent Suicide in Autism


Identifying Targets to Prevent Suicide in Autism: A Psychological Autopsy Study

Suicide is a devastating consequence of mental illness. Despite 70% of children and 79% of adults diagnosed with autism meeting clinical criteria for a mental health condition, there has been very little research into suicide in autistic people. The limited evidence available shows that 66% of adults with Asperger Syndrome have considered suicide, significantly higher than the UK general population (17%) and patients with psychosis (59%); and 32% have planned or attempted suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of premature death for autistic people. Although people with autism are at increased risk of death by suicide, no research has yet explored why, to enable development of suicide prevention strategies. This research project will utilise psychological autopsy methods to address this knowledge gap. This entails gathering data on the circumstances leading up to suicides from coroners’ inquests, medical records and interviews with friends and family of those who have died by suicide. Our group has already collated data from over 400 coroners’ inquests ruling a suicide or open verdict (likely suicide) across two regions of the UK (Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire), and found strong evidence for previously undiagnosed autism in 12% of suicide cases, significantly higher than the 1% autism prevalence in the general population. To establish the true rate of autism in UK suicides, and understand whether these individuals experience unique risk factors for suicide compared to the general population, we now intend to interview next of kin to confirm: a) autism, co-morbid and other diagnoses; and b) the circumstances leading up to the suicide. Results from this phase will be used to co-design a suicide prevention strategy in partnership with a steering group of autistic people who have attempted suicide. 

Who is involved in this study?

The Principal Investigator for this study is Dr Sarah Cassidy (Coventry University)

The Co-Investigator for this study at Newcastle University is Dr Jacqui Rodgers

Jacqui Rodgers

Also involved in the project from outside of the Neurodevelopment and Disability team are:

  • Simon Baron-Cohen (Co-Investigator; Director, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge)
  • Rory O'Connor (Co-Investigator; Chair in Health Psychology, University of Glasgow)

More information        


Twitter: @jacquirodgers                    

Call: 0191 208 7562

Other research

Identifying Targets to Prevent Suicide in Autism sits within the 'Lifecourse studies of neurodevelopmental disorders' research theme.

If you are looking for other research linked to ASD or Mental Healthplease view the relevant conditions and topics page for a full list of studies.