Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors in Autistic Adults: The Role of Community and Social Connections 

Principal Investigator(s):
Brenna Maddox, Ph.D.
Grant Type:
Applied Research
Funding:
$39,595
Organization:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Year Awarded:
2021
Topics:
Behavior, Emotions, Mental Health

Abstract

Suicide is a leading cause of premature death for autistic individuals. Autistic people are significantly more likely to think about, attempt, and die by suicide than the general population. Despite their increased risk, little is known about the factors that predict or protect against suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB) in this population. We propose to examine two risk factors, social isolation and assigned sex at birth, in a mixed-methods study with 50 autistic adults (25 males; 25 females), using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), online social diaries, and self-report of social connections. Study aims include to: (1) Examine how social and community integration relates to STB in autistic adults; (2) Examine how in-person versus online social interactions differentially affects STB in autistic adults; and (3) Explore differences between autistic males and females in their types of social connections and how these relate to STB. We anticipate that this project will expand the body of knowledge related to suicide prevention and intervention by improving our understanding of suicide risk in autism and informing how future work can utilize community connections as protective factors. We also expect that this study will produce practical findings that are generalizable beyond the research setting, given the focus on everyday interactions and real-time measurement.

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