Aspergers and suicide rates
Todays article comes to us from Robert Laing who addresses a very important topic: Aspergers and Suicide.
I have had many dark thoughts, which stem from having Asperger Syndrome. I’m too stupid. I’m too immature. I’m not good enough. I haven’t got what it takes. I can’t get along with everyone else. You are bound to know the kind of thoughts of which I speak.
What I intend to try and do here is look at the main causes of suicidal behaviour in those with Asperger’s Syndrome, such as those I have mentioned, and how to recognise warning signs, both within oneself and for those who have Aspies in their family. By doing this, hopefully, the statistics of those who commit suicide will be reduced. A recent survey indicated that Aspies are 66% more likely to have suicidal thoughts, compared with 17% of the general population.
A recent survey, as quoted on both www.cam.ac.uk and also www.thelancet.com, stated that out of 374 adults surveyed (256 men and 118 women), 243 of these people reported suicidal thoughts. That is to say, the level of this type of thinking is 49 percent higher than in the general population of England. It is also seven percent higher than in a similar survey conducted using patients with psychosis-related issues.
By any standards, this is a worrying statistic. The Lancet then goes on to comment that Asperger Syndrome is generally not diagnosed until upwards of age 11, while also saying that
Individuals who planned or attempted suicide had a significantly higher level of self-reported autistic traits than those who did not.
The www.pubmed.gov.uk website also backs this up with the apt comment that
Suicide in ASD is largely understudied.
Judith Barnard’s “Ignored Or Ineligible” pamphlet, as displayed on the www.autism.org.uk website, asks a very valid question:
Does high functioning disguise suicidal tendencies?
This is an area which requires a great deal more research.
That, however, would require at least three things:
- firstly, those who suspect that they have Asperger’s Syndrome need to be a little more honest with themselves about the issues they are having;
- secondly, those who are involved with them, also perhaps rethink the ways in which you help them;
- thirdly, society as a whole needs to be more open and accepting of those of us who are wired this way.
Neither of the study sources used for this article indicated any age peak. Barnard states that only 38% of people with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome have been offered a community care assessment. Of that 38%, only 16% actually chose to take one up. This, surely, is another reason why we should be encouraging those whom we know (or suspect) to have Asperger Syndrome to really open up about their feelings.
Which leads us then neatly on to a Really Big Question: what drives Aspies to suicide? The reasons are broadly similar to those which lead people in general to consider suicide.
First of all, the main candidate: depression. A chemical imbalance in the brain, a feeling that you have failed at life in general, call it what you will.
Aspies (particularly men) are far more susceptible to depression than those who are not on the autistic spectrum. Lack of confidence certainly does not help and neither do those comments which we have all had, along the lines of “I’d have had all that done in five minutes”; “Oh come on, pull yourself together”; “Life isn’t all that bad”, and a thousand other sayings spring to mind here. The feeling that you have not made the grade, as everyone else is doing things in seconds that seem to take you hours to complete. After all, everyone else tries that much harder and never has any of the troubles that you seem to have, so why should you be any different?
People will be, in your eyes, divided into two, or possibly three, categories. There will be those who cannot understand what the hell your problem is, you’re just being lazy, you’re being stupid and why the hell can’t you try harder? There will be those, such as parents and teachers, or maybe, if you are a bit older, close friends and colleagues, taking you aside and having “wee words” or “wee chats” with you, pointing out where you’re going wrong and thinking they are being helpful. They’ll no doubt tell you to “watch what you’re saying to people”, to “show some common sense”.
Then, there’s the third category: the doctors or care workers who don’t quite know what they are dealing with and can’t think of anything real with which to help you, so pass you around from pillar to post in some vague attempt to try and placate you.
Ok, so what does this actually have to do with suicide rates? Simple — it contributes to them … greatly.
What else drives Aspies to suicide? Well, the feeling of not fitting in. We’ve all been there.
That feeling that you first get in school or in nursery. You try and join in with other kids, the way you see others doing. You try and engage them in conversation, but because you don’t have their social skills or ease in the art of communicating with others, you get rebuffed, time and again.
That means you don’t get the chance to expand your social skills.
This then impacts upon and continues into adulthood. Again, we’ve all been there. Sat between the two different social groups that people always seem to go into around us, listening to the two completely different conversations taking place and not knowing how the hell we can become part of either one. So, we try and join in either one, or maybe even both. It’s taken every ounce of courage we have. We’ve heard what both groups are talking about.
We invariably choose the wrong moment and jump right into the conversation at the wrong moment or point. We’ve misjudged the tone or point of the conversation. Or, we are trying to come across in one particular way and end up coming across in quite another. The wrong way, as others are all too quick and keen to tell us.
The more we are rebuffed, the worse we feel. And this, if not caught up with early enough, continues on into adulthood and then, at our lowest ebb, those thoughts start to creep into our head. We have no form of social contact. We have no one to talk to. And on top of this, we may well have no job, either.
Unemployment statistics in the UK for those with Asperger’s Syndrome are well above the national average. This is, in the main at least, because our social skills generally preclude us from doing well in job interviews.
Society judges people very much on first appearances. It continues to judge them, thereafter, on the way they behave and the impression this gives.
This is where we tend to fall down, if we’re not helped. Feelings of failure are very common amongst Aspies, more common, it seems, than amongst the general population.
We come across as being very antisocial. We run the risk of going into (or being involuntarily sent into) our own little bubble, isolated from everyone else, generally through no fault of our own, having the frustrations, desperations and even emotions of others taken out on us, because they have long since tired of us being the way we are.
It is, in many ways, much easier to have Asperger’s Syndrome now than it was when I was growing up. Teachers and carers receive a great deal more training now in recognising the giveaway signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s one way forward in reducing those statistics. The same logic, I believe, also carries over into the workplace. For, while employers have no legal responsibility towards staff and testing them for signs of Asperger’s (or any other type of autism), the signs will be there all the same.
The names will go away but the symptoms do not. People pick upon symptoms in the workplace, just the same as they do in the playground. Yes, you may be asking, but what does this have to do with an article about suicide rates in those who have Asperger’s Syndrome?
The rates are affected by the way people treat you. By the time one reaches “maturity” (which, for the purposes of this article, we will take to mean you are of working age) one is expected to be able to cope with the workplace. One is expected to have learned all the social airs and graces which one needs to survive within the workplace.
Sometimes, this works. In my case, it did at the start. I came to my first “official” job, having just completed a college “work experience” placement. The placement had been useful as it had (and the people there had) taught me how to behave (and how not to behave) in the workplace. Therefore, I just went straight into this new place, as a temp and got right on with my job. I felt comfortable amongst the people.
All that changed when I came to get my second job. It was in a different setting. It was dealing with a totally different set of people. They all knew each other. They didn’t know me. And I didn’t know them.
Yes, but again you may well ask, what has this got to do with suicide rates amongst those with Asperger’s Syndrome? Feeling like you don’t fit in can build into feelings of “I’m not good enough” if you have Asperger’s Syndrome. And feelings of “I’m not good enough” can, if left untreated, result in isolation and, ultimately, suicide.
This is why it is important that we encourage Aspies — whether we know for certain or not that they have Asperger’s Syndrome — to talk about their feelings.
This means they (we) need to create an environment in which people feel comfortable just being themselves.
This is where websites such as The Lancet come into their own. The studies and articles there show us that we are not on our own. The comments often left by others give us something to relate to get people in the right setting. And here’s the most important part — Don’t talk at them!!!
This only causes more anxiety and stress. And you are supposed to be helping them (back to that particular point in a moment). But get them talking and you could, just possibly, save a life.
Trends indicate that silence is a killer. Going back to a point I made in my introduction, we Aspies tend to spend far too much time in our own head and not nearly enough time interacting with other people. And I don’t just mean being around other people. I mean, actually mixing with them. Being around them and amongst them. Not just watching from the sidelines.
For far too long now, it has been received wisdom that Aspies have no feelings. This is understandable but wrong.
What we could, more accurately, be described as being would be emotional icebergs. We have spent so long making (mainly unintentional) mistakes and being told off (the “wee word” curse again!) for doing so that we have withdrawn into ourselves. This leads to further rejections and insecurities.
We are thought of, to coin a phrase a very good friend of mine once used, as “just being odd-bods”. In the very worst case scenarios, we are cut off and thought of as failures (and, by extension, our parents and carers will think of themselves as failures) with whom no one knows what to do.
In other words, we are just left to get on with it. We have fallen through the cracks. And sundry other clichés you’ve no doubt heard and read a thousand times over.
Instead of talking at Aspies about what their problems are and how they come across (which they know, in just about every case, anyway), we need to start talking with them . Encourage them to come out of themselves. Make them do something about it.
SOURCES USED FOR THIS ARTICLE:
www.cam.ac.uk — 374 adults surveyed (256 men and 118 women); Aspies 66% more likely to have suicidal thoughts, compared with 17% in the general population and 59% in patients with psychosis
www.thelancet.com — 243 out of 374 surveyed reported such dire thoughts. Nine times higher than in the general population of England. “Individuals who planned or attempted suicide had a significantly higher level of self-reported autistic traits than those who did not”; Asperger’s Syndrome generally not diagnosed until age 11 upwards.
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24713024 — “suicide in ASD is largely understudied”.
www.autism.org.uk — Judith Barnard — “Ignored Or Ineligible” document — does high functioning disguise suicidal tendencies? People with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome are amongst the most vulnerable and excluded in our society; being of average or above average intelligence can be a trap; early diagnosis — satisfaction at school; only 38% of people with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome have a community care assessment; only 16% actually take one up; school — very few pupils have a transition plan; late diagnosis pattern also prevalent.
ROBERT LAING BIOGRAPHY
Robert discovered he had Asperger’s at the age of 20, quite by chance. His mother had been given Tony Attwood’s first book and recognized within it characteristics and situations similar to these encountered by both Robert and herself as a parent.
Robert has felt moved to write about Asperger’s – both his own experience with it and also the help that is available out there to others – now, because there are more people both being born with it and also being diagnosed with it retrospectively, in later life. He wishes to offer help and advice to others, just as others have done for him.
Aside from Asperger’s Syndrome, Robert also writes for a variety of website and print publications on subjects such as music, books and the local area in which he lives.
Robert has done a considerable amount of research into the average Aspie diet. He is sure that both parent and Aspie alike will find something to relate to in both this and future articles and welcomes feedback from both. He can be contacted for this and other writing matters at [email protected].