CAMHS, autism, and suicide: The disturbing facts
Autistic children and young people, like any young people, experience suicidal thoughts. In fact, due to the high rates of trauma in the Autistic experience of life, we are more likely to experience such thoughts. Despite this, services that are supposed to support us through these thoughts so often turn a blind eye. One service in particular turns a blind eye to the suffering of Autistic people; CAMHS is a service that will ignore young people to fatal consequences. This needs to change, Autistic young people deserve support through their struggles. I know this, my name is David; I’m not just a CAMHS survivor, I’m a survivor of a childhood suicide attempt that CAMHS could have stopped.
Autistic children and young people (according to the royal college of psychiatry) are 28 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide. Despite this, only 1 in 10 of children accessing CAMHS is Autistic (according to evidence submitted to the house of commons). What has to be so broken in the CAMHS system that so few of our children and young people are getting the support they need? I will admit that I have at times wondered if their refusal to help is some twisted form of eugenics. There’s no better way to eliminate Autistic people than to be complicit in their deaths.
As a child, I didn’t understand why the world at large was so cruel to me. I was bullied horrifically. At the age of 10, unable to take the suffering any longer I threw myself down a full flight of stairs. CAMHS did nothing. At 15 I hit such intense burnout that I could no longer attend school. CAMHS did nothing. By the age of 17 I was harming myself in numerous ways. CAMHS still did nothing. Eventually I became the problem of adult mental health services, but not before I experienced almost 10 years of drug addiction and psychosis.
No Autistic child should be left to suffer this way. We are not targets to be met, we are not a drain on resources. We are living, breathing people. CAMHS inability to successfully support us should not be an issue for families; it should highlight to services just how unfit for purpose they are.
According to the University of Newcastle, lack of access to good quality mental health support may be one of the major driving factors behind the disturbingly high rate of suicide in Autistic communities. CAMHS are essentially complicit in not just the suicide of Autistic children and young people, but also Autistic adults. Autistic children become Autistic adults, and we take with us the trauma of our past. By failing us in childhood, they set us up for an adulthood of mental health issues and the almost unavoidable potentiality of suicidal ideation and attempts.
Our lives are on the line, it’s time for something to change.
Diagnostic overshadowing is also an issue highlighted in this JAMA article. Diagnostic overshadowing is something parents of Autistic children and young people experience a lot in CAMHS services. They are told that their child’s distress is a part of their autism and that nothing can be done. This is a refusal on the part of CAMHS to acknowledge the harm that power dynamics and the wider world do to Autistic children. Suffering is not part of the diagnostic criteria, and they are fully aware of this.
Until such time that services like CAMHS not only open their doors to Autistic services users, but also become culturally competent in our experiences and presentations, We will continue to mourn the deaths of more and more of our young people. We shouldn’t be burying our Autistic children, we should be watching them grow and develop into the wonderful adults they have the potential to be.
We will not sit by while our children are killed by a system that is cold and uncaring.