Regina M. Benjamin, U.S. Surgeon General
LGBT Issues Highlighted in 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention

By Lauren Jow

Originally published on Advocate.com September 10 2012 4:39 PM ET

Released Monday morning to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention takes a look at the prevalence of suicide among LGBT people in the first revision since the document was published 11 years ago.

Intended to outline ways to reduce suicides, the strategy identifies various groups that may have higher suicide rates, including veterans, people with mental and substance abuse disorders, and individuals who are incarcerated or in custody of the child welfare system. LGBT people are represented in a two-page appendix as a “group with increased suicide risk,” most likely from the stress of being a minority.

For the past two years, a task force on LGBT populations has worked to improve the representation of LGBT issues in the strategy, which was coauthored by the U.S. Surgeon-General Regina Benjamin and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

“The 2012 NSSP represents a significant step forward in our on-going efforts to highlight the unique health needs of the LGBT community and ensure government responsiveness,” said Andrew Lane, a gay member of the Action Alliance’s executive committee, in a press release. Lane is also the executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation.

The initial 2001 strategy contained sparse comments on the issues LGBT people face. In the more than 200-page document, GLB youth were mentioned only in a short paragraph as a "special population at risk," no clear causes of suicide were identified, and no strategy offered to address the problem. Transgender people were not mentioned at all.

Since then, the nation has seen the stories unfold of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and numerous other LGBT people who took their lives because of bullying and prejudice regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. The country has seen the rise of the Trevor Project and the Born This Way Foundation as well as hundreds of It Gets Better videos as thousands have rallied in support.

Two years ago,the Action Alliance started bringing together public and private organizations to prevent suicides by advancing the national strategy.

In the 2012 revision, the section on LGBT people attributes the prevalence of suicide among this population to individual prejudice and “institutional discrimination,” that is, laws and policies that deny LGBT people benefits that others enjoy. These forms of discrimination, the strategy notes, are often associated with social isolation, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

"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 document reads.

Although the report summarizes findings about various segments of the LGBT population based on gender, age, and ethnicity, it also notes the limits of the research and statistics on LGBT people, particularly transgender individuals.

Since death certificates do not mention sexual orientation and gender identity, it isn’t clear whether LGBT people actually have a higher rate of suicide than heterosexual people. Studies from the past four decades, however, have indicated that LGBT people may have higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts, according to the report.

As for preventing suicide among LGBT people, the strategy recommends positive moves such as family acceptance and access to LGBT-affirming mental health treatment. Other strategies include reducing stressors associated with sexual orientation and gender-related prejudice, reducing bullying and changing discriminatory laws. No specific laws, however, are mentioned.

The section ends with a brief list of resources and organizations that work to prevent suicides specifically among LGBT youth such as the Trevor Project and StopBullying.gov.

Read the full report here.