A Scottish National Party MP, Dr Lisa Cameron, has raised a little-known, but important fact – it’s that people with autism have a sky-high suicide rate. A study done by the universities of Newcastle and Coventry had stark findings. Two thirds of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) reported having contemplated suicide, with 35 per cent of the 365 respondents saying they had planned or attempted to end their own life.
I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (now considered a part of the autistic syndrome) in 2002, at the age of 13 after experiencing a massive depression. Like many people with autism, there were some moments in my life when I was really down, up to a point where, even as a young teen, suicide seemed like an option. Because people living with autism usually have other mental health issues, this makes them really vulnerable to experience a “normal” feeling (like rejection) in a much stronger way than that experienced by non-autistic people.
I went on to study university, and now I’m trilingual. But even people like me, with autism, may not feel at ease in a “normal” social setting. As someone with high-functioning autism, I know that being aware of this is really difficult – you know that you don’t always have the capacities that others take for granted. Because they have trouble in the social sphere, many people with autism are lonely – and whether you are 8 or 88, loneliness sometimes feels like a monster which eats you slowly from the inside. The unemployment and underemployment rate of people with autism does not help.
There is no easy or magic solution to reduce the suicide rate for people with autism. Better medication could help a bit, better care, therapy, and life coaching could too – but it remains the case that people with autism are handicapped in many aspects of their everyday lives. With about 1 per cent of the population in the UK living with autism, the challenges related to the condition should be mainstream. Perhaps the SNP, along with likeminded MPs from other parties, can do people with autism a service by making it so.