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LGBT-inclusive national suicide strategy unveiled

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Monday, September 10, 2012
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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.

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