The challenges faced by people who experience forms of disabilities are influenced more by negative social expectations and tacit ideas concerning disability than by any emotional, physical, or cognitive impairment a person may experience. Each day, organizations work to educate the public about what life with a form of disability is like. For these organizations, that often times means assisting non-disabled neighbors and friends to understand that people with disabilities are not ill and that our lives are not without happiness or meaning.
The fact is - research on disability and depression has consistently shown that when people with disabilities report dissatisfaction with their lives they are not nearly as concerned with things such as reliance on machines or medications as they are with their relationships, financial security, or difficulties while at work. Despite this, the social message repeatedly presented is that life with a form of disability is miserable and when the people around us believe that without questioning it, it may become very hard for people with disabilities to think anything different. Through this, people with disabilities come to internalize oppressive images and after that happens, it becomes very difficult for people with disabilities to hope for something better in their lives. At this point, suicide also becomes an issue.
Considering the negative social messages concerning disability we hear almost daily, it is not surprising that people at times consider suicide after acquiring a disability. In fact, a number of the factors that are considered to be important in evaluating suicide potential such as social inclusion, financial stability and freedom of mobility consistently present challenges for people with disabilities. It is amazing that even though 18.7% of all non-institutionalized civilians in the United States experience a form of disability, they remain nearly invisible when it comes to the issue of suicide.
Disability, in relation to suicide, is something that is very hard to find statistics on and it is not a new phenomenon. In an article published by Carol J. Gill it was noted that it was ironic that so little suicide research has been conducted on the behalf of people with disabilities, since there are so many legal and medical decisions made about disability and the management of intentions to die. Carol Gill was referring to assisted suicide, a twist that makes all the difference. There is a mixed message suggesting that people with disabilities are only visible on the issue of suicide when others such as judges and doctors are making the decision for us. In addition, this reinforces the idea that disability is a legitimate reason to desire death; this writer certainly disagrees with this idea.
Suicide rates are much higher among people with spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis than in the general population. Another part of the overall population of people with disabilities at risk include people with forms of intellectual disabilities, in which it seems that rates of suicide risk factors are higher than the general population as well, even though suicide rates might be lower. The highest rate of suicide is reported among study populations of people with multiple sclerosis, followed by those with spinal cord injury and then people with intellectual disabilities. Suicide among people with disabilities is a complex, pressing public health concern. Urgent research priorities include:
Working towards these objectives will reduce the unacceptable burden of this preventable cause of death and help both children and adults with disabilities to lead lives that are healthier, happier and longer. It is important to believe in the worth and dignity of every person, regardless of any forms of disabilities they may experience. People with disabilities are the only group of people who receive the social message that suicide is a legitimate option. Because of this, it is imperative that organizations working with crisis intervention understand disability as a social issue. People with disabilities live lives that are just as worthy as the lives of non-disabled persons.
Organizations and agencies that track suicide rates are strongly encouraged to begin including people with disabilities in their studies because we know that what is counted is attended to; people with disabilities count too! People who work in crisis intervention are urged to learn about the stresses and joys of life with a form of disability so they will be as effective as possible when people with disabilities reach out to them as their most important life-line. Disability organizations can definitely be of assistance in this regard.
Communities need to stop tolerating the notion that people with disabilities have a reason to die and instead become active partners with the disability community to create a world that is both inclusive and accessible. Raising awareness about suicide will make the disability community visible while bringing people together so they can prevent unnecessary suffering and pain.