Autism and autistic traits in those who died by suicide in England

Sarah Cassidy, Sheena Au-Yeung, Ashley Robertson, Heather Cogger-Ward, Gareth Richards, Carrie Allison, Louise Bradley, Rebecca Kenny, Rory O'Connor, David Mosse, Jacqui Rodgers, Simon Baron-Cohen

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Background Autism and autistic traits are risk factors for suicidal behaviour. Aims To explore the prevalence of autism (diagnosed and undiagnosed) in those who died by suicide, and identify risk factors for suicide in this group. Method Stage 1: 372 coroners' inquest records, covering the period 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2017 from two regions of England, were analysed for evidence that the person who died had diagnosed autism or undiagnosed possible autism (elevated autistic traits), and identified risk markers. Stage 2: 29 follow-up interviews with the next of kin of those who died gathered further evidence of autism and autistic traits using validated autism screening and diagnostic tools. Results Stage 1: evidence of autism (10.8%) was significantly higher in those who died by suicide than the 1.1% prevalence expected in the UK general alive population (odds ratio (OR) = 11.08, 95% CI 3.92-31.31). Stage 2: 5 (17.2%) of the follow-up sample had evidence of autism identified from the coroners' records in stage 1. We identified evidence of undiagnosed possible autism in an additional 7 (24.1%) individuals, giving a total of 12 (41.4%); significantly higher than expected in the general alive population (1.1%) (OR = 19.76, 95% CI 2.36-165.84). Characteristics of those who died were largely similar regardless of evidence of autism, with groups experiencing a comparably high number of multiple risk markers before they died. Conclusions Elevated autistic traits are significantly over-represented in those who die by suicide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-691
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date15 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence ( licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This research was supported by Autistica [grant number: 7247], the Economic and Social Research Council Future Research Leaders grant [grant number: ES/N000501/2], Coventry University, and the University of Nottingham (received by S.C.). S.B.C. received funding from the Wellcome Trust 214322\Z\18\Z. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission. In addition, S.B.-C. received funding from Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 777394. The JU receives support from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA and AUTISM SPEAKS, Autistica, SFARI. S.B.-C. also received funding from the Autism Research Trust, SFARI, the Templeton World Charitable Fund, SFARI and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, NIHR or Department of Health and Social Care. The funding sources were not involved in any aspect of the study design, recruitment, data collection, analysis, interpretation of results, writing of the manuscript, or the decision to submit for publication. The corresponding author has full access to all data used in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


  • autism
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • autistic traits
  • mortality
  • suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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