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Self-harm and mental health characteristics of prisoners with elevated rates of autistic traits

Chaplin, Eddie, McCarthy, Jane, Allely, Clare S., Forrester, Andrew, Underwood, Lisa, Hayward, Hannah, Sabet, Jess, Young, Susan, Mills, Richard, Asherson, Philip and Murphy, Declan 2021. Self-harm and mental health characteristics of prisoners with elevated rates of autistic traits. Research in Developmental Disabilities 114 , 103987. 10.1016/j.ridd.2021.103987

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Background Prevalence studies among prisoners have found rates of 1–4% for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autistic traits. However, little is known about those prisoners with high levels of autistic traits. Aim This aim of this study was to compare the mental health characteristics of prisoners with autistic traits with neurotypical prisoners not screening positive for neurodevelopmental disorders. Method The study recruited 240 male prisoners from a London prison and screened for autism spectrum disorder using the Autism Quotient (AQ) 20 and 10, and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). The Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview was used to assess for depression, anxiety, self-harm behavior and suicide. Results Screening using the AQ identified 46 prisoners with significant autistic traits, with 12 meeting the diagnostic threshold for ASD using the ADOS. Those screening positive with autistic traits were significantly more likely to have thought about self-harm and suicide in the past month than neurotypical prisoners and have a comorbid mental disorder. They were also significantly more likely to report having attempted suicide during their lifetime compared to neurotypical peers at a rate of 64.9 % compared to 11.6 % for the neurotypical prisoners. Conclusion Prisoners with elevated levels of autistic traits were more likely to report self-harm, suicidal thoughts and were more vulnerable to a range of mental disorders than neurotypical prisoners. There is a need for more evidence on the experience of autistic prisoners to inform how pathways should work to improve health outcomes through increased awareness and access to screening and subsequent diagnosis which currently prisons are currently not set up for.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (CNGG)
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0891-4222
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 August 2021
Date of Acceptance: 9 May 2021
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2021 15:21

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