“Nothing ever goes right for me. I am tired of trying to fit into everyone’s idea of normal.”
Sadly, these are words spoken by an autistic person—one who is tired of fighting the fight and has considered taking their own life.
Suicide and suicidality rates in autistic people continue an upward climb. What does this mean, and what is next?
Suicide Statistics in the Autistic Population
The CDC reports that suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States.
It is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
Some studies indicate that autistic adults who have not been diagnosed with a learning disability are nine times more likely to die from suicide.
Research results also report that autistic children are up to 28 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide compared to non-diagnosed children.
Recent studies reported by the CDC point to a rise in suicide rates in autistic women. Researchers believe the underlying critical problem is that women and girls are often overlooked, misdiagnosed, or diagnosed as autistic later in life (on average girls are diagnosed two years later than boys, however, girls often go undiagnosed into preteen and teenage years, as well as into adulthood).
This contributes to the development of depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem—all of which raise the risk factors for suicide ideation in girls and women.
While it is thought that depression and other co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, contribute to the higher rates of suicide in autistic people, much more research is needed to verify the actual cause(s).
Is depression, anxiety, and even suicide something that is innately autistic, or is there something we have been missing?
Suicidality in Autistic People – What is Next?
Terra Vance, CEO, and founder of NeuroClastic, Inc., gives some personal insight into suicide in our beloved autistics in her candid blog, My Best Friend’s Suicide: Stop Calling Us Normal.
Terra was one of the “overlooked,” diagnosed with autism later in life. She reports that she had planned to kill herself “since kindergarten...maybe earlier.”
“They need freedom to be different. They do NOT want or need to feel normal. They need to be seen and understood and appreciated as being different, fundamentally, and what that means. They need someone to love the fight in them.
They need the bullies to be named– not just the ones with sticks and stones– but the ones conducting job interviews, the hell-fire-and-brimstone pastors, the ones with squad cars, the party hosts, the sneering parents on the playground, the teachers, the judges.
Then, they need you to change yourself.
Because when the different ones, the iconoclasts (NeuroClasts), are robbed of their access to choices, they feel like they have only one option left.”
Freedom to Be Who We Are
Several points from Terra’s blog illuminate what we need to do (“What is Next?”) to conquer this immense issue that we all are responsible for—the higher rate of suicide and suicidality in autistic people.
First of which is, “the freedom to be different.”
Imagine living in a world where you are never allowed to be who you truly are.
The pressure would never stop. It would just become heavier. We are all unique, and we need the freedom to be who we are!
Engagement with others who are like-minded is important to our mental health.
It helps us develop a sense of belonging, as well as a sense of freedom to be oneself, and this is crucial to the well-being of autistic people, especially in teenage and young adult years when the social pressures ramp up.
Dealing with Bullying
Terra also points out that bullies need to be named.
Bullying is a serious offense that should have consequences.
Yale University reports that some studies indicate that victims of bullying are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
Bullying must stop.
Until that happens, we must be proactive and recognize the effect that bullying has on our children and autistics (stress, anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem).
As a whole, we must teach our children and individuals how to deal with bullying.
Autism is Normal
Terra goes on to say, “Then they need you to change yourself.”
This speaks of the need for awareness.
The need to develop an understanding in our world that autism is normal in our autistic population.
Who defines normal, after all?
Depression and Hopelessness is Not a Symptom of Autism
We must gain an understanding of what depression, anxiety, and the feelings of hopelessness, “Things aren’t going to get better,” look like in autistics, and that it isn’t just a symptom of “being autistic.”
When we understand what leads to these feelings and mental challenges, we can better our communities, our workplaces, and even our homes to help autistics with any mental health challenges, and to prevent suicide.
Eliminate the Need to Camouflage
We must undo the need that autistics feel to “camouflage” oneself in the general population, especially in women (who are better at masking social difficulties).
We must confirm, love, accept, and support people to just “be you,” be your “real you,” the core person that you are, and that it doesn’t matter if the real you is autistic.
Provide Growth and Opportunity Resources
We must provide resources so that autistic people continue to grow in life and develop the “want” to grow in life—at any age.
Much of the joy that we find in life comes from growth, from the many opportunities that we have available to us to experience and thrive in life—a life that we can freely and uniquely partake in.
Seek Help from a Professional
We want you to live your why.
We want you to find it, know it, and live it every day.
Sometimes it is difficult to see the purpose in our life without talking with others.
You aren’t alone with this.
If you or your child are struggling with suicidal thoughts, understand that you are not alone. Reach out and tell someone.
We want to help! Make an appointment today.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of harming oneself, please call 911.
If you are not in immediate danger, but you need to talk with someone about your suicidal feelings, please call one of the following national suicide prevention lines: