Autism research leads to important change to suicide prevention policy

Monday, 16 October 2023

Research into autism and suicide has led to autistic people being included as a specific group in UK suicide prevention policy for the first time.

Dr Sarah Cassidy from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology led a program of research and policy work which has recently been incorporated into the new Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) Suicide Prevention Strategy 2023-2028, resulting in autistic people being included as a specific group in UK suicide prevention policy for the first time.

The research was the first to show high risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in late diagnosed autistic adults. Subsequently, she led an international policy brief, “Autism Community Priorities for Suicide Prevention”. This policy brief consisted of two large scale systematic reviews of the research evidence and public policy pertaining to suicide in autistic people, seven international workshops and an online survey with over 1,000 autistic people and those who support them.

Despite autistic people being at increased risk of suicide, they have been excluded from suicide prevention research and policy. Our work has ensured that autistic people’s voices have been included in research and policy decisions which affect them. Having this change in policy is a hugely important moment for autistic people and will help to inform the correct care and mental health support to prevent future deaths.
Dr Sarah Cassidy, School of Psychology

This policy brief has been explicitly cited in the DHSC suicide prevention strategy, incorporating a number of the key recommendations from the autism community, specifically:

1) Including autistic people as a specific group in suicide prevention policy.

2) Improving access to autism diagnosis and post diagnostic support (particularly mental health support and services).

3) Including the autism community in future decisions about research and policy, building off the work and example set from Dr Cassidy’s policy brief co-produced with autistic people and those who support them.

Jon Adams is one of the autistic collaborators on the research, he said: “For too long our community has suffered preventable loss whilst calls for appropriate and holistic support seem to have gone unheeded. Now finally autistic people have been involved in determining why so many of us leave too soon and our narratives and insights valued by researchers.

To be included in the latest suicide prevention policy is a huge and longed for step forward to stopping the loss of people, their richness and possibility within our community.

This needs to be an ongoing iterative process and core to positive change will be addressing why autistic people are often not accepted for who they are and made to feel they don’t belong by wider society.”

The workshops were facilitated by the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership, and funded by the ESRC, Autistica and the International Society for Autism Research. Newcastle University and University of Cambridge have also collaborated on the research.

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More information is available Dr Sarah Cassidy on

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
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