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Asperger Syndrome Increases Suicide Risk

Update Date: Jun 25, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

Asperger syndrome is a type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by symptoms such as repeat behaviors, clumsiness and difficulty socializing. People diagnosed with Asperger syndrome are considered highly functional individuals. In a new study, researchers examined the mental health of people with the condition and found that they had a greater risk of suicide than people without the syndrome.

"Our findings confirm anecdotal reports that adults with Asperger syndrome have a significantly higher risk of suicide in comparison to other clinical groups, and that depression is a key risk factor in this," study co-leader Dr. Sarah Cassidy, of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, said in a journal news release reported by Philly.

For this study, the researchers interviewed 374 adults diagnosed with Asperger syndrome living in Britain. They found that 66 percent of them admitted having suicidal thoughts while 35 percent of them stated that they had planned or attempted taking their own life. When the researchers compared these rates to the nation's rates, they found a significant difference. In Britain, 17 percent of the general popular reported having suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers looked at participants with Asperger syndrome and depression, they found that these people were four times more likely to think about suicide and two times more likely to try it in comparison to people with Asperger syndrome who were not depressed. The researchers reported that the more severe the autistic symptoms were, the greater the risk of suicide became.

"Adults with Asperger syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, under-achievement and unemployment," study co-leader Simon Baron-Cohen, from Cambridge, added. "Their depression and risk of suicide are preventable with the appropriate support. This study should be a wake-up call for the urgent need for high-quality services, to prevent the tragic waste of even a single life."

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

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