Studies have found that deaf individuals have higher rates of psychiatric disorder than those who are hearing, while at the same time encountering difficulties in accessing mental health services. These factors might increase the risk of suicide. However, the burden of suicidal behaviour in deaf people is currently unknown.
The aim of the present review was to provide a summary of literature on suicidal behaviour with specific reference to deaf individuals. The objectives of the review were to establish the incidence and prevalence of suicidal behaviour in deaf populations; describe risk factors for suicidal behaviour in deaf populations; describe approaches to intervention and suicide prevention that have been used in deaf populations.
A number of electronic databases (e.g. Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, EMBASE, Dissertation Abstracts International, Web of Science, ComDisDome, ASSIA, Education Sage Full Text, Google Scholar, and the grey literature databases FADE and SIGLE) were explored using a combination of key words and medical subject headings as search terms. Reference lists of papers were also searched. The Science and Social Sciences Citation Index electronic databases were used to identify studies that had cited key papers. We also contacted experts and organisations with an interest in the field.
Very few studies focussed specifically on suicide in deaf populations. Those studies that were included (n = 13) generally involved small and unrepresentative samples. There were limited data on the rate of suicidal behaviour in deaf people. One study reported evidence of hearing impairment in 0.2% of all suicide deaths. Another found that individuals with tinnitus seen in specialist clinics had an elevated rate of suicide compared to the general population. The rates of attempted suicide in deaf school and college students during the previous year ranged from 1.7% to 18%, with lifetime rates as high as 30%. Little evidence was found to suggest that risk factors for suicide in deaf people differed systematically from those in the general population. However, studies did report higher levels of depression and higher levels of perceived risk among deaf individuals than hearing control groups. No firm evidence was found regarding the effectiveness of suicide prevention strategies in deaf people, but suggested strategies include developing specific screening tools, training clinical staff, promoting deaf awareness, increasing the availability of specialist mental health services for deaf people.
There is a significant gap in our understanding of suicide in deaf populations. Clinicians should be aware of the possible association between suicide and deafness. Specialist mental health services should be readily accessible to deaf individuals and specific preventative strategies may be of benefit. However, further research using a variety of study designs is needed to increase our understanding of this issue.