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Home » PhD student aims to help save lives as autism research is included in Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy

PhD student aims to help save lives as autism research is included in Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy

by Leah Llano

A Coventry University PhD student hopes her research into suicide among autistic people will help save lives after her study was included in the Government’s new strategy for suicide prevention in England.

Autistic people are a high-risk suicide group and Mirabel Pelton’s research found feelings of not belonging and traumatic experiences increase their risk of suicide.  This means it is vital to promote belonging, autism acceptance and reduce traumatic experiences for autistic people.

As part of Coventry University’s Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Mirabel’s research has supported the recognition of autistic people as a high-risk suicide group within the Government’s strategy for the very first time.

Mirabel, whose daughter was diagnosed with autism during her PhD research, believes this recognition in the strategy is a vital step forward in helping more people.

She said: “Helping autistic people to feel a sense of belonging and social inclusion is crucial, so this is a call for action for societal change. In the past there’s been an attitude that autistic people want to be alone and that’s fine, but this isn’t the case. We need to get away from thinking ‘what’s wrong with autistic people?’ and make changes to society to make it more inclusive of autistic people.

“It has not been a requirement for coroners to note whether somebody is or is not autistic, so there have been years where we just don’t have this data related to suicide. My research demonstrates that the way we understand suicide for non-autistic people does not explain suicide amongst autistic people, meaning that tailored approaches are vital to reduce suicide rates.

“Society does encourage autistic people to mask things, for instance encouraging autistic people to make eye contact when they communicate, but these societal attitudes can be harmful and actions like eye contact are not necessary for effective communication.

“It’s great that the Government strategy has acknowledged for the first time that autistic people are a higher risk group for suicide. I hope my research will help to save lives, but this really is just a first step. There are things we can be doing, such as promoting autism acceptance, making healthcare environments safe and accessible for autistic people, thinking about the language we use to talk about autistic people, and supporting autistic people in employment.”

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