Monday, April 13, 2015

Suicide Prevention for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities have a variety of unique personal factors, often excel in academics, and are frequently well able to advocate for themselves. However, students with both learning disabilities and physical disabilities are a higher risk for mental health problems than those without such disabilities. Students with learning disabilities typically have higher rates of depression, and students with physical disabilities have more thoughts and attempts of suicide compared to students without disabilities. Additionally, students’ risk for suicidal behavior has been shown to be higher if the disability is less visible.
Students with disabilities face problems similar to those experienced by other students, including relationship and family problems, academic and career concerns, anxiety, and depression. However, the problems of student with disabilities may be compounded by unique factors such as prejudice or discrimination; the severity and visibility of a disability; loss of income and status; loss of caregivers or problems with developing or maintaining independence; difficulty with adjustment depending on when the disability occurred or developed; and other factors related to specific diagnoses, including mobility issues, impulsivity, or deficits in social skills.
Similar to other students, a number of personal and environmental factors can help protect students with disabilities from mental health problems and risk of suicidal behaviors (see protective factors below). Factors that are especially helpful for students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and mobility disabilities include family connectedness and religiosity.


  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Previous suicide attempt or previous thoughts of killing oneself
  • Coping style in which problems are kept inside/unexpressed

  • Low self-esteem and lack of self-efficacy

  • Feelings of loneliness, guilt, shame, or inadequacy

  • Academic concerns

  • Financial concerns

  • Conflicts with friends, roommates, peers, or partner

  • Recent loss (e.g., death or breakup)
  • Loss of caretakers
  • Social isolation, particularly from family or spiritual community
  • Conflict with parents about choice of academic major, career, or dating partner
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Family history of depression and/or suicide
  • Easy access to firearms or other lethal methods
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of shame in seeking mental health services
  • Lack of access to mental health care

Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior for Students with Disabilities

Protective factors are characteristics, skills, strengths, or resources that help people deal effectively with stressful events and reduce the likelihood of attempting or completing suicide. They enhance resilience and can help compensate for risk factors. Each person has his or her own unique set of protective factors, which can be either personal or environmental. Increasing protective factors can help decrease risk of suicidal behaviors, and students should work to maintain and increase these protective factors.

Emergency Numbers

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline
    1.800.273.TALK (8255)

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