A new strategy unveiled Monday aimed at reducing the suicide rate in the United States includes a section on the rate of suicide for LGBT people — saying they may be particularly at risk because of “minority stress” and “institutional discrimination” resulting from anti-gay laws on the books.
The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, made public on World Suicide Prevention Day, was published by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and former Defense Secretary of Robert Gates launched the alliance in late 2010 in part to address the suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home.
The strategy details multiple goals for reducing suicide, such as integrating suicide prevention into health care policies and changing the way the public talks about suicide and suicide prevention. In addition to veterans, the study identifies particular groups that may face a higher suicide rate, such as individuals with mental and substance abuse disorders, individuals in justice or child welfare settings and LGBT people.
Andrew Lane, a gay member of the Action Alliance’s executive committee, said the strategy lays the groundwork to reduce the suicide rate among LGBT people.
“The 2012 NSSP represents a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to highlight the unique health needs of the LGBT community and ensure government responsiveness,” said Lane, who’s also executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation.
The strategy attributes the prevalence of suicide in the LGBT community to “minority stress” stemming from cultural stigma as well as “institutional discrimination” that comes from laws that deny benefits and protections for LGBT people that are provided to others.
“These negative outcomes, rather than minority sexual orientation or gender identity per se, appear to be the key risk factors for LGBT suicidal ideation and behavior,” the strategy states. “An additional risk factor is contagion resulting from media coverage of LGBT suicide deaths that presents suicidal behavior as a normal, rational response to anti-LGBT bullying or other experiences of discrimination.”
Among the factors that the strategy has found that reduce suicides among LGBT youth are family acceptance and access to mental health treatment. The Action Alliance also recommends reducing LGBT-related prejudices and associated stressors, improving access to LGBT-affirming treatment, working to reduce bullying and eliminating discriminatory laws. Notably, the strategy makes no mention of any particular discriminatory law against LGBT people that should be eliminated.
In a statement, Sebelius hailed the strategy as means to help organizations’ work in preventing suicides throughout the country.
“Our message today is one of hope,” 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.”
Sebelius announced HHS would provide $55.6 million in new grants for national, state, tribal, campus and community suicide prevention efforts, which were made possible under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a new outreach campaign called “Stand by Them: Help a Veteran.”
According to the strategy, whether LGBT people have a higher suicide rate than others is unknown because sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t recorded upon the death of an individual. However, the strategy does say studies indicate suicide ideation and attempts are higher for LGBT people.
“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 strategy states. “Lifetime suicide attempt rates among lesbian and bisexual females were almost twice those of heterosexual females.”
The strategy makes particular note of the rate of suicide among LGBT youth. An analysis of studies found that LGB youth were three times more likely to report a lifetime attempt than straight youth, and more four times more likely to report a medically serious attempt.
A note of suicide among transgender people, saying population-based studies haven’t yet included transgender participants, but non-random surveys show the problem particularly affects transgender people. A 2009 study from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force force found that 41 percent of adult respondents reported suicide attempts.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, praised the strategy.
“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,” Cole-Schwartz said. “With public and private resources coming together this is a positive step toward lessening tragic deaths by suicide.”
It’s not the first time a national strategy has been issued to address the problem of suicide in the country, nor is it the first one to address the trend of suicide among LGBT youth. In the 2001, HHS under the direction of the Bush administration’s Surgeon General David Satcher unveiled a similar study about the national suicide rate that includes a paragraph addressing LGBT suicide. But this earlier strategy isn’t as detailed people for LGBT people, nor does it contain any explicit reference to suicide rates among transgender people.