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New report focuses on 'Suicide and Suicide Risk in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations'

News release from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Calls for Broad Action to Address Knowledge and Prevention Gaps

New York, NY – January 5, 2011 –– An expert panel of 26 leading researchers, clinicians, educators and policy experts have 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 will be published online in a special edition of the Journal of Homosexuality on January 5th.

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 in recent months.

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. “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 Ann Haas, PhD, lead author and Director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “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.”

Key Findings and Recommendations:

--The report cites 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. Thus, 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, and push for the development and testing of a wider range of culturally-appropriate mental health treatments and suicide prevention initiatives.

--The consensus panel called for revision of diagnoses pertaining to transgender people in the 5th 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, and encouraging researchers to include such measures in general population studies related to suicide and mental health.

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The repeal of DADT is certainly a step in the right direction. I am convinced that if society accepted lgbt's and didn't force them to hide who they are, the depression and suicide incidence rate would be less. Unfortunately, people learn at an early age that they have to pretend. This leads to feeling alone and wishing you were "normal". There are many variations of male and female, and some of us are stuck "in between" whether we want to be or not. I just published Bad Girl Gone Mom that is a coming out of sorts for me, and will hopefully give others support in knowing they are not alone.

Thus, the consensus report identified "stigma" and discrimination as playing a key role


The appearance of one word in this report is of great concern, the claim of "stigma." I recall two widespread historical uses, the "stigma" of Jews, we know who directed it and the result. The "stigma" of rape, we know who directed it and the result.

I am appalled and angered that any "consensus report" would direct this term. I am equally appalled that any journalist or editor would repeat it uncritically.

Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor

Studies like this are sorely needed in order to begin the process of helping our communities. In a way, all forms of L, G, and B have many of these problems because they are seen as being trans to some degree. That is, they transgress mainstream societies' appearance and behavior expectations for a hypothetical extreme 100% man or 100% woman; they stray too far from a gender binary. This is the attribute to which people have been taught to react in a negative manner, and it's fueled by an assumption of basic inequality between men and women. But we have to to get to that point of understanding the underlying reasons and to do so requires much data gathering.

Now, once these base studies are done, I'd love to see breakouts on the effects of medical issues such as HIV+ or being transsexual, as they can completely skew the stats based on things such as inherent and intrinsic chronic pain, etc.

And I completely agree regarding the use of terms such as 'stigma' which indicate underlying bias.

Harold - I think this is a valid use of the word. Social stigma has been defined by some sociologists as consisting of these four parts (copy/pasted):

1. Individuals differentiate and label human variations.
2. Prevailing cultural beliefs tie those labeled to adverse attributes.
3. Labeled individuals are placed in distinguished groups that serve to establish a sense of disconnection between "us" and "them".
4. Labeled individuals experience "status loss and discrimination" that leads to unequal circumstances.

I imagine that, as an expert on mental health, you are probably rolling your eyes, saying "Yeah, duh." But when you break it down like this, it's easy to identify how LGBT people experience each of these four points.

I don't think anyone is trying to equate the struggle for LGBT rights with the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. But (and this thought just occurred to me) wouldn't the stigma of rape be even more amplified if the victim is gay? A significant minority of people believe that gay people are obsessed with sex. Imagine a gay man trying to explain to these people that he was raped by another man. It's not hard to hear their reaction go from "Well, it's your own fault" to "You deserved it."

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