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I want to raise the topic of PTSD and suicide ideation in autistics as I recently had an autistic burnout and really suffered. I was fighting intense suicidal thoughts daily for a couple of weeks, something that has been a pattern since I was a boy but has gradually gotten more extreme as I have aged.
Since having my late autistic diagnosis it has been truly life-changing! I have now started to understand more about being neurodivergent, (something I had never heard of before my diagnosis) all about my condition, accepting it, and how it has and does impact all aspects of my life. It has been a lot to process and I am still learning all the time. At the age of 44 and only being diagnosed for a couple of years, I accept it won’t be an overnight process – sometimes to my frustration!
My research and speaking with other neurodivergents or carers (mainly online – a big thank you to them) has helped me become more aware of my own symptoms, especially masking.
I have always fixated on death and suicide for as far back as I can remember and I have spoken about it at length in my therapy sessions over the years. I have slit my wrist before resulting in 7 hours of emergency hospital surgery and taken many overdoses resulting in ambulance blue lights. These have not been in states of depression but the opposite, in states of sensory overload during autistic burnout – although I didn’t understand this terminology until I had my autism diagnosis.
During these burnout periods, the smallest thing, which I usually mask can trigger these thoughts. Something out of place or out of pattern can create a downward slide into that dark place and speaking to someone at that time only adds to the sensory overload making it worse (especially if they don’t understand my condition).
Through analysing my life and understanding certain areas more, whilst trying to un-mask, I have started to talk about more things from my past, and behaviours I thought were ‘normal’, which I now know wasn’t! I then started to realise that I showed strong signs of PTSD. Although there isn’t much research on this, some studies have suggested that people with autism may be at a far greater risk of developing PTSD compared to the general population.
Here are some factors:
- Past experiences of misunderstanding or misdiagnosis: Adults who have had a late autism diagnosis may have experienced years of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis, or being told that their struggles were due to other factors. This can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, and a sense of not being heard or understood.
- Social challenges and isolation: Adults with late-diagnosed autism may have spent a lot of their lives feeling socially isolated or struggling to fit in. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, rejection, and a sense of not belonging.
- Masking/Mimicking: Many adults with late-diagnosed autism have developed coping mechanisms to mask or camouflage their autistic traits to fit into social situations. This constant effort to hide or suppress their true selves can be emotionally exhausting.
- Identity Crisis: A late autism diagnosis can make you question your identity and reevaluate past experiences. This process can be challenging and may lead to feelings of confusion and self-doubt.
- Comorbidity – more than one condition: Adults with late-diagnosed autism may also experience multiple mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, and ADHD. These conditions can further contribute to the development of PTSD symptoms.
After researching this and then requesting my doctor to refer me to PTSD therapy, I had an initial assessment, and I am now on the waiting list!
Whilst looking into all this I came across the term Suicidal Ideation:
‘Suicidal ideation refers to having continuous thoughts or ideas about ending your own life. It is a serious mental health concern and should be taken seriously. People experiencing suicidal ideation can feel overwhelmed with emotional pain, hopelessness, or a sense of being trapped. They may believe that ending their life is the only way to escape their suffering.’
‘Suicidal ideation can occur in various degrees, ranging from fleeting thoughts to more detailed plans. It can be associated with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar or PTSD’
Finding this out was like a light bulb had been turned on for me. This is what I’ve been screaming out to the psychiatrists and doctors for around 2 decades of treatment and yet I was never put forward for PTSD therapy? If I’d known of or understood the term earlier I could have requested therapy myself – but isn’t that their job as doctors and specialists?
I wanted to understand if there was a relationship between suicidal Ideation and Autism.
‘Suicidal ideation can be affected by having an autistic condition. Autistic individuals may face unique challenges and experiences that can contribute to feelings of distress and hopelessness.’
Some factors that influence the relationship between autism and suicidal ideation include:
- Social difficulties: Autistic individuals often struggle with social interactions and may feel isolated or misunderstood. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and a sense of not belonging, which can contribute to suicidal ideation.
- Sensory overload: Many autistic individuals are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces. Constant exposure to overwhelming sensory experiences can be emotionally draining and increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.
- Communication difficulties: Difficulties in expressing emotions/feelings or understanding others can make it challenging for autistic individuals to seek help or communicate their distress. This can lead to feelings of frustration and hopelessness, triggering a greater risk of suicide.
- Comorbidity: Autistic individuals may also have other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar. The combination of these conditions can further contribute to suicidal ideation.
Again, reading the above, I have to manage almost all of these factors daily – depending on routines or social interactions, etc!
These are the reasons why it can be very scary when I am put into these dangerous states after being triggered which I try to prevent, through routines, patterns, and clear communication. It can be very demeaning when people say that ‘you cope very well’ or that ‘your autism isn’t serious’ which shows people don’t understand, which only adds to the feeling of isolation. To be hyper-focused where suicide and death are the objective is very scary especially when you can be impulsive – it literally is life threatening.
I am hoping that PTSD therapy will be able to help and the therapist will have a knowledge of neurodivergent conditions as I feel it plays a huge factor in how it should be approached.
I have never personally come across anybody speaking about Suicide Ideation and I feel the research into this will be very limited. I hope by speaking about my personal experience, I can raise awareness, that more resources are put into place to help people recognise and understand symptoms earlier in life, and that there is some sort of support.
I wrote this so that people may have a better insight into understanding some of the many issues that autistic adults with a late diagnosis like myself may be dealing with. I am not a medical professional and I am just speaking about my personal experiences.
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