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Suicidal Thinking in People with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Every 17 minutes, a suicide is completed, and every 42 seconds someone is attempting suicide. Research reveals that 80-90% of those who commit suicide had a mental health issue. The rates of suicide are rising among teenagers and young adults with High-Functioning Autism (Asperger’s). Professionals working with Asperger’s teenagers are suggesting that 50% of these adolescents have contemplated or attempted suicide, and they are at a 40-50% higher risk of completing suicide than their “typical” peers.

Suicide is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations. It may seem like there is no way to solve your problems, and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. Suicide warning signs include:
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Being severely anxious or agitated
  • Changing normal routine (e.g., eating or sleeping patterns)
  • Developing personality changes
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things (e.g., using drugs or driving recklessly)
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Getting the means to take your own life (e.g., buying a gun or stockpiling pills)
  • Giving away belongings
  • Having mood swings (e.g., being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next)
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
  • Talking about suicide (e.g., "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I had never been born")
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone

There's no substitute for professional help when it comes to treating suicidal thinking and preventing suicide. Don't try to manage suicidal thoughts or behavior entirely on your own. You need professional help and support to overcome the problems linked to suicidal thinking. Having said that, there are a few things that may reduce suicide risk and get you to start enjoying your life again:

1. Avoid drugs and alcohol, because they can worsen suicidal thoughts. They can also make you feel less inhibited, which means you're more likely to act on your thoughts.

2. Don't skip your medications is the doctor has prescribed some for you. If you stop, your suicidal feelings may come back. You could also experience withdrawal-like symptoms from abruptly stopping an antidepressant or other medication.

3. Employ the techniques called “thought-stopping.” The basis of this technique is that you consciously issue the command, “Stop!” when you experience repeated negative or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic. Interrupting bothersome thoughts with a “stop” command serves as a reminder and a distraction.

4. Get treatment for the underlying cause of your suicidal thinking. If you don't treat the underlying cause, your suicidal thoughts are likely to return.

5. If you are already seeing a therapist, don't skip therapy sessions or doctor's appointments, even if you don't want to go or don't feel like you need to.

6. If you have depression, learn about its causes and treatments.

7. It is easy for negative thoughts to take over and run as out of control as a runaway train. But, always remember that you are the one who has ultimate control of your thoughts. What are thoughts anyway? They are simply words or pictures that flash across your mind. When you begin to see thoughts that way (temporary flashes in your mind), it is very liberating. When you begin to control your thoughts instead of letting them control you, then you are the ruler of your own destiny. Take several times a day and simply observe your thoughts. When a negative one pops in your head, first acknowledge it, and let it know that it's even ok that it is in your head. Then let it know that you are the ruler of your thoughts, and gently let it fly away like a bird. As you practice this, it will get more natural and you will easily be able to remove these negative thoughts.

8. Physical activity and exercise have been shown to reduce depression symptoms (e.g., walking, jogging, swimming, gardening, etc.).

9. Remember that suicidal feelings are temporary. If you feel that life is not worth living anymore, remember that treatment can help you regain your perspective — and life will get better.

10. Seek help from a support group. It may be hard to talk about suicidal feelings, and your friends and family may not fully understand why you feel the way you do. Reach out anyway. You may want to get help from your place of worship, support groups or other community resources. Feeling connected and supported can help reduce suicide risk. There are a number of organizations available to help you cope with suicidal thinking and recognize that there are numerous options in your life other than suicide.

11. Use the technique call “distraction.” Just as the name implies, distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off of a strong emotion (e.g., reading, journaling, playing video games, watching a movie, calling a friend, etc.). Oftentimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. Thus, by temporarily distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage.

12. Work with a therapist to learn what might trigger your suicidal feelings. Learn to spot the danger signs early, and decide what steps to take ahead of time. Consider involving family members or friends in watching for warning signs.

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