Intellectual Disability and Suicide Risk: An Exploratory Discussion

  • Tony Salvatore
  • Jerrod Brown
  • Deb Huntley
  • Trisha Kivisalu
  • Cheryl Arndt


Suicide risk, ideation, and behavior in adults with intellectual disability are explored from a suicide prevention perspective. Growing research literature on suicidality in adults with mild intellectual disability is reviewed. Chronic suicidality and contingent suicide threats are introduced to aid in understanding suicidal behavior within this population who may have no intent to die. Recommendations are provided for suicide prevention efforts specifically for those within this at-risk population. Areas for further research are identified.

Keywords: Intellectual Disability, prevention, suicide, theories

Full article published in The Journal of Special Populations, Volume 1, Number 1:

Author Biographies

Tony Salvatore

Tony Salvatore, MA, manages suicide prevention and postvention at Montgomery County Emergency Service, a psychiatric crisis response service and hospital, in Norristown, PA. He has organized and led suicide prevention task forces at the county level in PA and served on both the state youth and adult/elder suicide prevention task forces. He has written articles and developed training and suicide prevention and postvention resources for police officers and emergency medical services (EMS) staff on suicide crisis intervention and providing support after a suicide. He is an advocate for increasing suicide prevention efforts on behalf of older adults, persons with serious mental illness, and individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Jerrod Brown

Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS, is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways provides programs and services benefiting individuals impacted by mental illness and addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS), and the Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Scholars Today (FST). Jerrod is currently in the dissertation phase of his doctorate degree program in psychology. 

Deb Huntley

Deb Huntley, Ph.D., LP, teaches in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department at Concordia University, St. Paul. She is a licensed psychologist and has worked in children’s shelters, residential facilities for adolescents and chronically mentally ill adults, private practice, juvenile detention programs, outpatient child and adolescent clinics, and has consulted with a state adoption agency. She is currently a member of the editorial review board for The Family Journal as well as Forensic Scholars Today. 

Trisha Kivisalu

Trisha M. Kivisalu, M.A., is a doctoral candidate and 4th year student in the Ph.D. Clinical Psychology program at the California School of Professional Psychology, at Alliant International University, Fresno, California. She has experience working with children, youth, adults, and older adult populations in clinical, academic, research and assessment contexts. She enjoys the combination of clinical work with scientific research and teaching in medical and university settings. 

Cheryl Arndt

Cheryl Arndt, PhD, is a community psychologist and the Director of Performance Improvement for KidsPeace. She received her MA from Antioch University New England and her PhD from Capella University. Dr. Arndt is widely experienced in program development, management, and evaluation. Her performance improvement efforts have resulted in enhanced safety and programming and stakeholder satisfaction. As partner in a research company, she developed value added quantitative and qualitative services for multiple fortune 100 companies, publishing results nationally and internationally. Current and recent research includes clinical outcomes measures (including for clients who have sexually offended) and factors, which help to prevent child maltreatment. Dr. Arndt has is a peer reviewer for Psychology of Women Quarterly. She has served on numerous work groups and advisory committees and is committed to advocating for our clients through varied governmental, public, and private venues. She is Co-Chair of the Outcomes Work Group for the PA Council of Children, Youth, and Families and holds a Board position in the American Psychology Association’s Section on Child Maltreatment.