Issue Paper: FASD and Suicidality

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CanFASD recently released a new issue paper FASD and Suicidality: Rates and Associated Factors. Below is a short summary. You can find the full issue paper here.


People with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) face complex challenges. When unsupported, many individuals with FASD face challenges with mental health and substance use. One of the most concerning potential outcomes in this population is the risk of suicide.

Suicidality is a spectrum of thinking and behaviours related to suicide. Factors like individual, environmental, and socio-cultural characteristics influence the risk of suicidality. While there has been limited research conducted on FASD and suicidality, researchers have found that rates of suicidality are higher in individuals with FASD compared to the general population. Some researchers have also shown that individuals with FASD may experience suicidality at a younger age than those without.


  • People with disabilities (e.g., physical, neurodevelopmental, and intellectual) experience a variety of challenges that may increase their risk of suicidality.
  • High levels of stress, mental and physical health challenges, difficult family experiences, limited social support, and co-occurring conditions can all impact suicidality among those with disabilities.
  • There has been limited research on FASD and suicidality specifically.
  • In non-FASD populations, neurobiology, behaviour, stress, and executive functioning have all been shown to relate to the risk of suicidality – all of which can be impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure.
Emerging Evidence
  • Individuals with FASD experience a range of brain and body impacts from prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and adverse life experiences, all of which contribute to the risks of suicidality.
    • Life Stages:
      • Researchers recently found that the rates of suicidality among individuals with FASD/PAE differed significantly by age, geographic region, and living situation, but not by sex
        • Highest rates were seen in adolescents (13-17 years old) and transition aged youth (18-24 years old).
        • Although lower than transition-aged youth and adolescents, rates among children (6-12 years old) were problematically high
      • Biopsychosocial Factors:
        • Substance use, history of trauma/abuse, and problems with offending have been shown to increase rates of suicidality among people with FASD.
        • Researchers have shown a relationship between mental health concerns and suicidality (e.g. Anxiety, depression/mood disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder/adjustment disorders), which is especially concerning because of the high rates of mental health challenges among those with FASD.
        • Sleep problems may also impact the risk of suicidality among individuals with FASD.

Take Home Message

Suicidality is a significant concern in the FASD community. Individuals with FASD seem to experience a higher risk of suicidality than the general population. Factors related to FASD such as environmental adversity, trauma, abuse, sleep disorders, and complex mental health challenges may be associated with a higher risk of suicidality. These findings help to inform research, practice, and policy changes to better understand suicidality among individuals with FASD and provide effective supports. Communities need tailored resources and services that take these complex factors into account when addressing suicide prevention and intervention.

For more information, including recommendations, please read the full issue paper here.

Authors: Kirsten Morrison, Kelly Harding, Katherine Flannigan, Carly McMorris, & Dorothy Badry

Date: July 2022

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