Examining the potential applicability of the minority stress model for explaining suicidality in individuals with disabilities

Rehabil Psychol. 2021 May;66(2):183-191. doi: 10.1037/rep0000378. Epub 2021 May 20.


Purpose/objective: The purpose of this conceptual article is to discuss the minority stress model and its potential applicability as a model for examining the higher rates of suicidality in people with disabilities.

Method: This conceptual article is based in the empirical literature on the minority stress model and the literature exploring the experiences of both proximal (e.g., internalized stigma, self-concealment) and distal (e.g., harassment, violence, and discrimination) minority stress among people with disabilities. It also draws from the literature on suicidality and disability.

Results: After establishing the higher rates of suicidality among people with disabilities as evidenced in the existing literature and discussing our gaps in the knowledge about the factors that drive this phenomenon, I discuss the minority stress model, which posits that elevated rates of suicidality among individuals with disabilities can be explained by a combination of proximal and distal stressors related to one's marginalized status. I then discuss the ways in which this model could be applied to suicidality and psychological distress in individuals with disabilities, drawing on research that establishes that they experience these proximal and distal stressors at high rates.

Conclusions: The minority stress model is potentially useful for conceptualizing the higher rates of suicidality among people with disabilities, both alone and in conjunction with other models of suicide, in a manner that addresses disability justice and the experiences and effects of chronic, pervasive marginalization. Recommendations for research, and policy, including strategies for addressing both internalized ableism and disability-related discrimination and harassment, are provided. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Disabled Persons*
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups
  • Social Stigma
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Suicide*