At The Independence Center, we believe that the challenges faced by people with disabilities are influenced more by negative social expectations and tacit ideas about disability than to any physical, emotional, or cognitive impairment an individual may have. Every day, we work to educate the public on what life with a disability is like. In our line of work, that often means helping our non-disabled friends and neighbors understand that people with disabilities are not sick and that our lives are not devoid of meaning or happiness. Quite the contrary! In fact, research on disability and depression has consistently shown that when people with disabilities report dissatisfaction with our lives we are not nearly as concerned with things like reliance on medications or machines as we are with our financial security, relationships with others, and difficulties at work. Even so, the social message repeated again and again is that life with a disability is miserable, and when the people around us believe that without question it can become very difficult for us to think anything different. This is how we come to internalize oppressive messages, and, once that happens, it becomes very difficult for us to hope for something better in our lives.
This is also where suicide becomes an issue.
Given the negative social messages about disability we hear nearly every day it is not surprising that people sometimes consider suicide after acquiring a disability. In fact, many of the factors that are considered important in evaluating suicide potential – financial stability, social inclusion, and freedom of mobility – consistently pose challenges for people with disabilities. So it absolutely amazes us that even though 18.7% of all non-institutionalized civilians in America have a disability, we are virtually invisible when it comes to the issue of suicide. Recently, we came up empty-handed when we tried to find statistics on suicide as it relates to disability. And this is not a new phenomenon. In an article published in 1992, Carol J. Gill 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 medical and legal decisions made concerning disability and the management of intentions to die. She was, of course, referring to assisted suicide. This is a twist that makes all of the difference. This is a mixed message that suggests that people with disabilities are only visible on the issue of suicide when others (doctors, judges, etc.) are making the decisions for us. Furthermore, this reinforces the notion that disability is a legitimate reason to wish for death. We could not disagree more.
The Independence Center believes in the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of disability. People with disabilities are the only group of people that receive the social message that suicide is a legitimate option. As such, it is imperative that those of us working in crisis intervention understand disability as a social issue. PWD live just as robust lives as those without a disability.
- We strongly encourage agencies and organizations that track suicide rates to start including us in their studies because we know that what is counted is attended to. Because we count, too!
- We urge those of you working in crisis intervention to learn about both the joys and the stresses of life with a disability so that you will be as effective as possible when people with disabilities reach out to you as their most important life line. Disability organizations can be of help with this.
- The Colorado Springs community must stop tolerating the idea that people with disabilities have a reason to die and, instead, become active partners with the disability community to create a world that is fully accessible and inclusive.
Raising awareness about suicide will make the disability community visible and bring us together so that we can prevent unnecessary pain and suffering. Please, join us!