Why embracing autism is key to improving mental health within the autistic community

Even as a high-functioning autistic individual who has experienced mental health problems, finding out that those on the autistic spectrum are nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population is still, to me, a shocking figure. Upon reflection however, it perhaps isn’t that surprising. According to figures from the UK charity Autistica, those on the spectrum with a learning disability are also twice as likely to take their own life. Furthermore, research is beginning to indicate that a significant proportion of people who die by suicide in the UK overall meet the diagnostic criteria for autism.

From personal experience I know all too well that such statistics point to a complex and often misunderstood picture of autism across almost every part of society. Indeed, this misunderstanding is not only true among many employers and the general public, but even within the NHS and mental health services. To face this problem, we need to recognise that autism is in itself, not a mental health problem or a specific learning disability. There are both high functioning autistics like myself and those who do have a learning disability. Understanding this, is key to making mental health services work for everyone. This is also why the NHS needs to develop autism-specific mental health care pathways, increase knowledge of autism among its practitioners and improve communication across different departments. Often people are let down as they are forced from pillar to post due to this misunderstanding within the system.

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6th December 2017
Huffington Post