Suicide amongst people with intellectual disability: An Australian online study of disability support staff experiences and perceptions

McKay, Kathy, Wark, S, Ryan, P and Muller, A (2017) Suicide amongst people with intellectual disability: An Australian online study of disability support staff experiences and perceptions. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 62 (1). pp. 1-9. ISSN 1365-2788

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Background: Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) have a higher likelihood of exposure to identified risk factors for suicide when compared with the general community and have been recognised as being both capable of forming intent for suicide and acting on this intent. However, in spite of research outlining these concerns from the 1970s, there remains a dearth of studies that examine suicide amongst the population of people with ID. Method: An online cross-sectional survey was purposively developed, with questions aimed at identifying both the experiences and current practices of support staff who assist people with ID in relation to suicide, suicidal behaviour and suicide assessment. It was undertaken across both rural and metropolitan areas in Australia. The survey was open for a period of 12 months. A total of 139 respondents (109 female/30 male), with a mean age of 41 and an average 12 years of experience in supporting people with ID, completed the tool. Results: A total of nine suicides by people with ID were reported. Seventy-seven per cent of the respondents reported that they had individuals with ID display suicidal behaviours, and 76% noted that a person had specifically talked about wishing to end their life. Only four participants (3%) noted that they did not support individuals with a dual diagnosis of ID and mental health concern. Sixty per cent of participants reported that no one in their organisation had ever completed a suicide risk assessment, and only 28% reported that they would do a suicide risk assessment if an individual that they supported was diagnosed with a mental health issue. Conclusions: The current findings indicate that support staff recognise the capacity of people with ID to conceptualise suicide, note the existence of suicidal discussions and behaviours and report on actual suicides. This represents one of the few Australian studies that has specifically considered suicide amongst this cohort of people and reinforces the fact that suicide is not unknown in this population. The data indicate a possible divide between the reports of people with ID actively talking about and acting on suicidal thoughts and the lack of any proactive use of any tools to assess for this risk.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Research & Development Unit
Subjects: Disabilities & Disorders (mental & physical) > Suicide
Disabilities & Disorders (mental & physical) > Classification of Mental Disorders
Department/People: Special Units

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