Psychosis Plus Autism Traits Boosts Risk of Depression, Suicidal Thoughts

December 20, 2017
Suicidal girl

People with psychosis who have autism spectrum traits are at increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to research published online in Schizophrenia Research.

The findings stem from a pair of studies: one involving university students and the other involving patients with first-episode psychosis. All participants completed measurements of autism spectrum traits, psychotic experiences, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thinking.

“What we found was that with both groups, the more autism traits a person had, the more likely they were to have depressive symptoms and suicide ideation,” said researcher Stephen Wood, PhD, a professor at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, in Australia.

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In the first-episode psychosis group, analysis suggested the relationship between autism traits and suicidal thoughts was mediated through hopelessness.

“The more autism traits people with psychosis had, the lonelier and more hopeless they felt and were more likely to think about suicide,” said Dr. Wood.

Researchers pointed to the increasing recognition of the co-occurrence of autism and schizophrenia and suggested young people with psychotic experiences be screened for autism.

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“Our study shows that a person’s level of autism traits is an extremely important marker in helping identify those people with psychosis at risk of suicide,” said Dr. Wood.

“What we need to do now is improve care for people with high levels of autism traits who develop a psychotic illness. This means better training for clinical staff to support people with both autism and psychosis, and the need to ask about autism traits in clinical assessments.”

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

Upthegrove R, Abu-Akel A, Chisholm K, et al. Autism and psychosis: clinical implications for depression and suicide. Schizophrenia Research. 2017 August 18;[Epub ahead of print].

Autism traits increase thoughts of suicide in people with psychosis [press release]. Melbourne, Australia: Orygen; December 14, 2017.