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People with autistic traits are more likely to take their own lives as they feel “shunned” by society and are depressed, researchers said. Promoting social inclusion and independence could save lives.
“This is a shocking wake-up call for society. When a significant section of the population feel that they don’t belong in the world — as a society we urgently must do more to value neurodiversity. This could ultimately save lives,” said Mirabel Pelton, a researcher at Coventry University.
The study, published in the Journal Autism Research, involved 163 people aged between 18 and 30 who completed an online survey which asked a range of questions to establish the level of autism, depression and suicidal behaviour.
It also examined interpersonal feelings which may be associated with attempting suicide, such as believing they do not belong or fit in the world, and that they are a burden on others. The academics used standard tests and a psychological model to investigate associations between autistic traits, depression, feelings of not belonging and of being a burden and suicidal behaviour.
The results, presented to a US federal advisory committee, suggested that those participants who exhibited higher levels of autistic traits were more at risk of suicidal behaviour during their lifetime.
Higher levels of autistic traits were also associated with increased vulnerability to experiencing feelings of depression and do not belong in the world, which may put them at more risk of attempting suicide. “These are life and death issues. Research to date has failed to understand the link between autistic traits and suicide but this study suggests that promoting social inclusion and independence could literally save lives,” Pelton added.