By Zack Jenkins
In 2010 the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention was established to curb the growing suicide rates among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home. On Monday the Alliance and U.S. Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, released its 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and included LGBT people as an at-risk population that may suffer due to “minority stress” and “institutional discrimination.”
The national strategy aims to reduce suicide rates by integrating prevention into health care policies and changing public dialogue surrounding suicide prevention. Along with veterans and LGBT people, the study identifies other groups at risk of higher suicide rates, such as those suffering from mental and substance abuse disorders, and youth in child welfare or incarcerated.
The strategy identifies “minority stress” and “institutional discrimination” as two main reasons for increased suicide attempts among LGBT people. The strategy says that laws denying benefits and protections for LGBT people, as well as increased media coverage of LGBT suicide deaths “presents suicidal behavior as a normal, rational response to anti-LGBT bullying or other experiences of discrimination.”
Family acceptance, access to mental health treatment, and LGBT-related prejudices (both socially and in the work place) are also identified in the strategy as elements that increase stress and put LGBT people at a higher risk of suicide.
“Our message today is one of hope,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said. “The national strategy will bring together the nation’s resources, both public and private, in an organized effort to provide life saving services and improve the ability of individuals, friends and family members to recognize the warning signs of despair and take action to save lives.”
“A meta-analysis of 25 international population-based studies found the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts in gay and bisexual male adolescents and adults was four times that of comparable heterosexual males,” the report states. “Lifetime suicide attempt rates among lesbian and bisexual females were almost twice those of heterosexual females.”
In regards to those at-risk, the strategy identifies LGBT youth as “three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth” and “four times more likely to report a medically serious attempt.”
Popularized by campaigns like No H8, World Suicide Prevention Day, and Suicide Shouldn’t Be A Secret, the Alliance is using social means to advance suicide prevention awareness and change the dialogue surrounding LGBT issues. Other public efforts, such as the song “Make It Stop,” by Rise Against and the It Gets Better viral YouTube campaign, have heightened the dialogue and discussion surrounding LGBT bullying.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said “We applaud the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the efforts underway to improve the health and well-being of LGBT people – particularly youth that need to know there are people out there ready and willing to help them.”