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Study launched to reduce self-harm and suicide in adults with autism

Researcher with unrecognizable patient, talking, taking notes

Researchers are inviting partner organisations and charities to work with them to help shape and progress a study to develop new ways of reducing self-harm and suicide in adults with autism.

The collaborative research is being led by the University of Nottingham and Newcastle University to look at how Suicide Safety Plans can be adapted to be more effective for adults diagnosed with autism.

Suicide is much more common in adults who have a diagnosis of autism, with autistic people around nine times more likely to die by suicide than non-autistic people. Evidence shows that 66% of autistic adults have considered suicide, this is much higher than the UK general population where the rate is about 17%.

“Safety plans are a simple, brief, personalised intervention to prevent self-harm and suicide in the general population. Autistic adults have told us that suicide safety plans could be very useful to them, and suggested ways to adapt the plans so they are clearer and more relevant to their needs.” said Dr Sarah Cassidy.

The NIHR have provided funding to allow us to continue to work with autistic adults and those who support them, to further develop and test how useful these adapted suicide safety plans are to autistic adults. We have a number of mental health, wellbeing and autism related support services and charities on board to help us with this work and we welcome enquiries from other organisations that would like to get involved.”

Safety plans are a tool used to support and guide someone when they are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, to help keep themselves safe. Anyone in a trusting relationship with the person at risk can help draft the plan; they do not need to be a professional.

Safety plans typically include information such as personal warning signs that the person might be approaching crisis, personal coping strategies to provide distraction from thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact information for friends, family and professionals to provide support, and making the environment safe.

Although autistic people are at increased risk of self-harm and suicide, no research has yet explored the development of suicide prevention strategies adapted to their unique needs. Research into other types of mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression indicates that autistic people require adaptations to be made to standard treatments to make them accessible and meaningful.

You can find out more about the work at the Safety Plan Study website and contact the team to get involved by emailing the research team at the University of Nottingham.

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