BYU research address autism and suicide risk

Jan 15, 2021, 8:59 AM
AUTISM AND SUICIDE prevention in schools suicides pandemic...
FILE: A drawing hangs along with other messages of hope and remembrance as part of Suicide Prevention Day at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Legislation under consideration in 2021 would expand suicide prevention programs to all grade levels. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah — More research shows a link between autism and suicide, and it has been increasing in recent years.

The risk of suicide is even higher for women and girls with autism. It can be caused by diagnostic overshadowing: Some women are undiagnosed with autism and suffer from depression and anxiety. Others are diagnosed with autism but mask or hide it to try to fit in with societal expectations.

“They camouflage their systems. Our work at BYU has found, the more you camouflage, the more anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts that you have,” said BYU professor of psychology and neuroscience, Mikle South.

South says studies out of Denmark, Sweden, the University of Utah, and BYU are showing these suicide risks for people with autism.

“There’s a lot of work going on right now around what’s called the double-empathy problem. It’s that autistic people have a hard time understanding non-autistic people, but just as much, non-autistic people have a hard time understanding autistic people,” he told KSL Newsradio.

“The conflict comes here, in between the autistic and non-autistic people. Both can communicate well, they just have a hard time communicating with each other,” he said.

South says when society becomes more accepting of people with autism, these rates and risks of suicide will go down.

“More acceptance of neurodiversity will benefit everyone in society and may also lead to a decrease in feelings of rejection and suicidal thinking for autistic individuals,” he said in a recent review essay.

South says there ought to be more research funding to look at prevention and risk detention. Clinicians should know what signs to look for and consider all possible diagnoses in their screening. Researchers would also like medical examiners to help with these studies, too.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time for free, by calling 1-800-273-Talk.


Read more of KSL Newsradio’s coverage of “Healing Utah’s Teenagers” here.

KSL’s combined coverage “Reasons to Hope” is found here.

And resources for help around Utah are here.

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