Domains of the autism phenotype, cognitive control, and rumination as transdiagnostic predictors of DSM-5 suicide risk

Darren Hedley, Mirko Uljarević, Ru Ying Cai, Simon M Bury, Mark A Stokes, David W Evans
PloS One 2021, 16 (1): e0245562
Suicide is a global health problem affecting both normative and clinical populations. Theoretical models that examine mechanisms underlying suicide risk across heterogeneous samples are needed. The present study explored core characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a sub-population at high risk of suicide, as well as two dimensional cognitive constructs, as potential transdiagnostic predictors of suicidal ideation in a clinically diverse sample. Participants (n = 1851, 62% female) aged 18 to 89 years completed online questionnaires assessing: social communication difficulties; insistence on sameness; cognitive control; and rumination. Forty-three percent of participants reported the presence of at least one neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorder. One third of the sample reported some suicidal ideation (SI), and 40 percent met the threshold for concern for depression. All hypothesized constructs were associated with SI and depression and, with the exception of rumination, contributed significantly to SI. Participants reporting SI returned significantly higher social communication difficulties and insistence on sameness, and lower levels of cognitive control than those reporting no-SI. The study was limited by the use of a cross-sectional sample assessed with self-report measures. All diagnoses were self-reported and the study was additionally limited by the use of a single item indicator of suicidal ideation. These findings support a role for constructs associated with the ASD phenotype and associated broad cognitive domains as potential risk factors underlying suicidal ideation in a large clinically diverse sample. Our findings suggest directions for future longitudinal research studies, along with specific targets for suicide prevention and clinical practice.

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