Written by: Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Specialist – Special Populations, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
September is Suicide Awareness Month. Very few statistics exist about disability in relation to suicide. What is known is that suicide rates are much higher among people with spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis than in the general population. Also, at risk for higher rates of suicide are individuals with intellectual and learning disabilities. Partly influencing suicidal tendencies is the social message that life with a form of disability must be miserable, therefore causing people with disabilities to internalize feelings that cause depression, anxiety and lead to social isolation. Suicide may even be regarded as a noble, selfless act by people with disabilities who feel like a burden to friends, family and caregivers.
An individual contemplating suicide exhibits such behaviors as abusing alcohol and/or drugs, increased discussions about death and ‘what if I were gone’ conversations, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, decreased interest in typically enjoyed activities, impulsive and destructive behaviors, changes in sleeping and eating patterns (too much and too little), excessive feelings of shame or guilt, excessive crying and anger, erratic emotions, dropping out of daily routines, disappearing for hours at a time for no reason, becoming more quiet or talking more irrationally.
Parent, guardians and caregivers can help improve protective factors for individuals with disabilities by:
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms of suicidal thinking.
- Telling them how proud you are of their efforts to succeed in school or in employment.
- Listening without judgement, pushing or being confrontational.
- Not taking their suicidal thoughts as a personal affront on your caregiving.
- Connecting them to a spiritual advisor for support.
- Helping them revisit past happy memories through photographs and home movies.
- Encouraging them to journal or draw as a means of expressing feelings.
- Procuring professional help such as a counselor or the suicide hotline – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255.
- Considering taking a course on Mental Health First Aid.
- Surrounding them with positive images, words and people.
*Additional Resource – People with Physical Health Problems or Disabilities