The “horrific” level of suicides in the autism community needs to be urgently confronted, MPs from across the political spectrum are urging the Government.
The SNP’s Dr Lisa Cameron will lead a debate in the Commons calling for the Government to do more to provide support to those on the autistic spectrum who also suffer from mental illness.
She will be backed up by Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who has described the suicide rate in the autism community as “truly shocking” and questioned whether the NHS was serious about tackling the issue.
A 2016 study in Sweden revealed suicide is a leading cause of premature death in people with autism spectrum disorder, while research from Coventry University in 2014 showed 66% of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome reported having contemplated ending their own lives.
Speaking to HuffPost UK ahead of Thursday’s debate in the Commons, Dr Cameron said: “It’s one of the leading causes of death in the autistic community. It’s horrific.
“One issue is GPs aren’t quite sure where to send people and it’s not being picked up enough.
“There needs to be more information and more clear pathways to help people who are on the autism spectrum and who have a mental health issues.
“It’s true to say that people on the autistic spectrum might not come forward to talk about it as well.”
Research carried out in 2007 shows that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
Yet according to the National Autistic Society, more than 70% of those with autism will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives.
In May, Dr Sarah Cassidy – who led a clinical study into mental health and autism in 2014 – warned there is a “worryingly high prevalence of people with the condition contemplating and attempting to take their own life.”
She added: “There are significant differences...in the risk factors for suicide in autism compared with the general population, meaning the journey from suicidal thoughts to suicidal behaviours might be quite different.
“The models we currently consider best practise for assessing and treating suicidality need to be rethought for those with autism, and policy adjusted accordingly so new approaches are reflected across services.”
Writing on Conservative Home on Wednesday, Anne-Marie Trevelyan said there needed to be more research into which therapies helped those with autism and mental health problems.
Trevelyan, whose son is autistic, wrote: “Going to a GP can be really difficult for autistic people. It’s a strange environment, with unusual lighting, sounds and rules that cannot easily be escaped.
“You get a ten minute appointment with a stranger who asks you a disconcertingly unclear question like “how are you doing?”, and you either clam up or panic and talk about the first answer that springs to mind rather than the issue you really came for.
“If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression that already makes leaving the house a battle, seeking help from your GP becomes impossible.”
Trevelyan also claimed that while NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, recommends the development of autism-specific care pathways, “nothing has been heard since it was proposed last February.”
“This work is supposed to get underway in 2018,” said Trevelyan, adding: “Right now, it’s not clear whether the project is actually happening, let alone who’s going to lead it, what its scope will be, how autistic people will be involved and a myriad more questions. This is a crucial opportunity to begin transforming care for autistic people. It’s vital that we get it right.”
Sarah Lambert, Head of Policy at National Autistic Society, welcomed the debate, and a common cause for problems going untreated is because a lack of access to the right support at school or at work.
She added: “Parents and autistic adults tell us that, delays in getting diagnosed have led to the development of serious mental health problems, both for the individual and for the family.
“Far too many autistic people are living with avoidable mental health problems. If we can provide the right support for autistic people from the beginning, we can ensure that the lives of autistic people in England can be transformed.”