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Assessment of Suicidal Behaviors Among Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Denmark

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Importance: There is limited evidence supporting an association of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with suicidality and the risk factors for suicide attempt and suicide among people with ASD. Existing research highlights the need for national cohort studies.

Objectives: To analyze whether people with ASD have higher rates of suicide attempt and suicide compared with people without ASD using national register data, identify potential risk factors for suicide attempt and suicide among those with ASD, and examine associations with comorbid disorders.

Design, Setting, and Participants: In this cohort study, nationwide register data from January 1, 1995, to December 31, 2016, were gathered on 6 559 266 individuals in Denmark aged 10 years or older. Statistical analysis was performed from November 20, 2018, to November 21, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Rates of suicide attempt and suicide among persons with ASD were compared with rates among persons without ASD, using Poisson regression models to calculate incidence rate ratios adjusted for sex, age, and time period.

Results: Of the total study population of 6 559 266 individuals, 35 020 individuals (25 718 male [73.4%]; mean [SD] age at diagnosis, 13.4 [9.3] years) received a diagnosis of ASD. A total of 64 109 incidents of suicide attempts (587 [0.9%] among individuals with ASD) and 14 197 suicides (53 [0.4%] among individuals with ASD) were recorded. Persons with ASD had a more than 3-fold higher rate of suicide attempt (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR], 3.19; 95% CI, 2.93-3.46) and suicide (aIRR, 3.75; 95% CI, 2.85-4.92) than those without ASD. For individuals with ASD, the aIRR for suicide attempt among female individuals was 4.41-fold (95% CI, 3.74-5.19) higher compared with male individuals; for individuals without ASD, the aIRR for female individuals was 1.41-fold (95% CI, 1.39-1.43) higher compared with male individuals. Higher rates of suicide attempt were noted across all age groups for those with ASD. Persons with a diagnosis of ASD only had an aIRR of 1.33 (95% CI, 0.99-1.78) for suicide attempt, whereas those with other comorbid disorders had an aIRR of 9.27 (95% CI, 8.51-10.10) for suicide attempt compared with those without any psychiatric disorders. A total of 542 of 587 individuals with ASD (92.3%) who attempted suicide had at least 1 other comorbid condition and 48 of 53 individuals with ASD (90.6%) who died by suicide had at least 1 other comorbid condition.

Conclusions and Relevance: This nationwide retrospective cohort study found a higher rate of suicide attempt and suicide among persons with ASD. Psychiatric comorbidity was found to be a major risk factor, with more than 90% of those with ASD who attempted or died by suicide having another comorbid condition. Several risk factors are different from the risk factors in the general population, which suggests the need for tailored suicide prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2033565
JournalJAMA network open
Volume4
Issue number1
ISSN2574-3805
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021

ID: 61731734