An exploration of suicide and autism: quantitative, qualitative and autoethnographic perspectives

PhD Thesis

Dean, M. 2024. An exploration of suicide and autism: quantitative, qualitative and autoethnographic perspectives. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Allied and Public Health Professions
AuthorsDean, M.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

In this study I explored the experience of suicidal autistic adults from the perspective of an insider researcher. I used mixed methods, within an interpretative paradigm, that focused on three methods of data collection. The first study used quantitative and thematic analyses to interpret data from 74 autistic adults collected using an online survey. Demographic characteristics highlighted that not all who have planned suicide have experienced depression, not all who have attempted suicide have been diagnosed with depression, and that autistic adults have attempted suicide without making a plan. Quantitative analysis results indicated suicidal plans are experienced by those with diagnosed depression, and suicidal ideation and suicidal plans are experienced by those who have experienced depression but have not been diagnosed with depression. A thematic analysis identified themes relating to the various suicidal behaviours, the reasons for these behaviours, and the effect of NHS/Mental health teams on suicidal autistic adults. The second study used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to elicit the experience of seven suicidal autistic adults. Using email to undertake the interviews was an innovative approach for suicide research. I adapted the IPA method to suit the perceived autistic strengths and weaknesses of the participants, in addition to my own. Their experiences identified six super-ordinate themes including the roles of autistic well-being, support, the autism diagnosis, the community, and the impact of gender. The third study focused on my lived experience. It took the form of an innovative autoethnographic study, analysing the personal experience of a suicidal autistic adult. The results resonated with those of the second study, whilst also highlighting that the option of suicide never recedes. As a priority of the autistic community, this study made recommendations to prevent suicide, including correctly identifying depression, anxiety, autistic burnout, and other co-occurring conditions, by using specific autism-friendly tools.

KeywordsSuicide; Autism
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Publication process dates
Deposited14 May 2024
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