Tampa church steps up to address issue
Photo: Rev. Dr. Carlan Helgelson Courtesy, Spring Hill Church
By DMITRY RASHNITSOV
An expert panel of 26 leading researchers, clinicians, educators and policy experts has released a comprehensive report on the prevalence and underlying causes of suicidal behavior in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adolescents and adults. The report appears in the Journal of Homosexuality.
Titled “Suicide and Suicide Risk in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations: Review and Recommendations,” the report makes sweeping recommendations for closing knowledge gaps in what is known and not known about LGBT suicide behaviors and calls for making LGBT suicide prevention a national priority. This is especially timely in light of multiple suicide deaths among LGBT youth over the past year.
“With this report and recommendations, we hope to move LGBT suicide prevention squarely onto the national agenda and provide a framework for actions aimed at reducing suicidal behavior in these populations,” said Dr. Ann Haas, lead author and director of prevention projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “It’s time for the federal government, suicide prevention agencies, mental health professionals, policy makers and LGBT organizations to join together to bring this problem out of the closet and work toward effective solutions.” Despite four decades of research pointing to elevated rates of suicide attempts among LGBT people, national suicide prevention initiatives, including the 2001 U.S. National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, have given scant attention to suicide risk in sexual minority persons.
According to the AFSP, Florida had 2,587 people commit suicide in 2006.
Some of the key findings and recommendations of the report include strong research evidence of significantly elevated rates of lifetime reported suicide attempts among LGBT adolescents and adults, compared to comparably aged heterosexual persons.
However, the authors found limited empirical evidence of higher rates of suicide deaths in LGBT people, mostly because sexual orientation and gender identity are not indicated on death records in the U.S. and most other countries.
Although multiple studies point to elevated rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse among sexual minority people, the panel found that these problems, by themselves, do not account for the higher rates of suicide attempts that have been reported by LGBT people.
The consensus report identified stigma and discrimination as playing a key role, especially acts such as rejection or abuse by family members or peers, bullying and harassment, denunciation from religious communities and individual discrimination. The report also highlighted evidence that discriminatory laws and public policies have a profound negative impact on the mental health of gay adults.
In a series of recommendations, the consensus panel called on LGBT organizations to lead efforts to encourage early identification of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental disorders among LGBT people.
The panel called for revision of diagnoses pertaining to transgender people in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (due out in 2013) to affirm that gender identity, expression and behavior that differ from birth sex is not indicative of a mental disorder.
Other recommendations focus on improving information about LGBT people by measuring sexual orientation and gender identity in all national health surveys in which respondents’ privacy can be adequately protected.
Organizations all over Florida are doing their part to try and help curb the gay teen suicide problem. In Tampa, Spring Hill United Church of Christ has launched a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays chapter to help students in the area who feel they have nowhere else to turn to.
“We knew there was no PFLAG chapter in the county, but there are gay and lesbian kids (in Hernando),” said the Rev. Dr. Carlan Helgelson, the church’s pastor. “There has been no place for them to go and find support.”