Suicide is one of the world’s leading causes of death. Yet “suicide” is still spoken in hushed tones. So much stigma is wrapped up in the word. Another word that’s not often discussed: “addiction.”
90% of people who die by suicide have depression, a substance abuse disorder, or both (addictioncenter.com). In my home country of the UK, 6,507 people per year die by suicide, representing 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people (Mental Health Foundation).
And so, for people who are both neurodivergent and addicts like myself, it is of the utmost importance that there is a better understanding of suicide and it’s causes. It’s a matter of life and death.
Neurodivergence refers to neurodevelopmental diagnoses– in other words, being wired differently. Though there are other neurodivergent diagnoses, this article references ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and Tourette Syndrome.
Autistic people are 9 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population according to Autistica. ADHDers have double the risk of suicide. Also, 25% of people in substance abuse programs are ADHDers, and they are as much as ten times more likely to struggle with addiction. Those with Tourette Syndrome have a high occurrance with substance abuse disorders and are four times more likely to die by suicide. Dyslexics have significantly higher rates of suicide and self-injury and of substance abuse disorders/addiction.
Higher risk, less discussion
With suicide being so prevalent in marginalised communities such as the neurodivergent (ND) population, I find it concerning that there is so little discussion of mental health and addiction among ND communities.
From my interaction with medical professionals, it seems as though mental illness is considered an additional (unofficial) trait of autism or ADHD, with many autistic people being told that their mental health problems are to be expected. This interpretation of mental health challenges as the ND norm feels like the world doesn’t value or recognize the neurodivergent struggle to fight back.
The Online ND Community
In the online ND community, discussion of mental health and addiction is probably one of the least viewed and discussed issues.
Even on NeuroClastic, a publication centered on neurodiversity, articles discussing addiction rarely to get 150 views in a week on a website with thousands of visitors every day.
Lack of Resources for Addicts
Addiction in itself is an incredibly isolating experience. The changes it causes to a person’s behaviour often alienates friends and loved ones, driving the addict deeper into a world of self-hatred and harmful habitual behaviour.
As an neurodivergent addict, the world feels impossible to navigate, with very little in the way of advice available. Even professionals tend not to know what to do with autistic addicts.
I have suspected for a long time now that the reason we don’t see many ND addicts speaking out is because they are no longer with us.
The compounding of suicide risk due to the intersection of neurodivergence, addiction, and mental health has perhaps robbed us of voices that we so desperately need to hear.
My people are out in the world, dying because they cannot see a way out, and still the world remains silence on links between nurodivergence and addiction in co-existence.
We need to talk about addiction & neurodivergence now.
If we want Suicide Prevention Week to mean something, then we need to start having difficult conversations about mental health and addiction among ND people.
Neurodivergent people are also at a higher risk to be bullied, sexually assaulted, abused by parents, murdered, discriminated against, and wrongfully terminated from their jobs.
We must dig into the systematic traumatising of ND children and adults and learn to support each other through the different outcomes of that trauma.
If you want to learn more about neurodivergence and addiction, please see my other articles on the subject, many of which can be found on NeuroClastic or my personal blog (Emergent Divergence).
Starting the conversation about neurodivergence, addiction, and mental health is the first step towards preventing suicides in a community that for so long has been oppressed by mainstream society.
- Neuroqueering the future: an Interview with Dr. Nick Walker- author of Neuroqueer Heresies - January 26, 2022
- Autistic people and the fear of death - November 25, 2021
- Integrating autistic culture into the world: The cultural model of autism - June 1, 2021
Thanks for speaking up!
Great article – thank you. It seems that once you’ve got one medical label (eg your first ND one), any additional labels you acquire (especially mental health-related ones) are seen as simply part of the ND package: they’re not taken seriously in their own right; they are simply ‘sad’ side effects of being autistic or dyspraxic, dyslexic, having ADHD or Tourette’s. And that includes taking one’s own life.
On that note, when I worked with a mental health organistion (Devon Recovery Learning Community), we used that terminology – ‘took their own life’ – rather than committed suicide, as the latter was seen as pejorative (suicide being a criminal act, in the same way homicide, patricide, matricide etc are). I was interested to see you use the wording ‘died by suicide’, instead. I quite like that term. It makes the action very clear, while not dirtying the word by prefixing it with ‘committed’. Thank you for that.
I feel it’s important to use the word suicide, but it absolutely must be separated from the days when it was a crime.
Thank you for your comment 🙂
Thank you for this important information. It all makes very good sense that risk is increased by societal and tolerated misinformation. And, its all very upsetting. Bringing light to the internal experience is needed and helpful.
Thank you for your article. In regards to the terminology around suicide, I cringe every time I hear people say someone committed suicide. Twenty two years ago when my son died by suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was working very hard to change that terminology – largely for the reasons you stated. Committed sounds like a criminal act. And in fact, in many states, including Virginia, the “common law of suicide as a crime” remains on the books. In regards to “the systematic traumatizing of ND children,” it is unconscionable the amount of harm that is being done through punishment for stress behaviors (fight, flight, freeze) – restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion. Everyone working in a human service field must understand (1) basic brain neuroscience – including how non-volitional behaviors can appear volitional; but are not; and (2) an understanding of autism, including characteristics of brain processing and communication. Thank you for educating us!
Such a great post – I recently did some research on the life outcomes on people with ADHD and then linked it to executive functioning. Hope you come check out my blog. https://strengththroughvulnerability.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/adhd-executive-functioning-3-part-series-2/