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The Incredible Group Fighting Suicide in Tennessee

The Incredible Group Fighting Suicide in Tennessee


The queer youth of Tennessee need help. Luckily, they're not alone.

Lately whenever Tennessee makes the news, it's for something that negatively affects the LGBTQ community -- its proposed "natural marriage bill" (recently killed in a state House subcommittee), attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, and recent "religious freedom" legislation that may legitimize bullying of LGBT students.

But there are agencies, directly and indirectly, which are helping to improve the lives of different target populations in Tennessee, including LGBTQ people. One of these is the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, recently selected as Charity of Choice for this year's Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament, the world championship of gay rugby. The Bingham Cup, as it is also known, is planned for May 22-29 in Nashville -- the first time the tournament has been held in the U.S. since 2010.

TSPN is a public-private partnership of counselors, mental health professionals, and community advocates dedicated to the goal of reducing suicide rates in the state of Tennessee. It works across the state to eliminate mental health stigma and educate communities about the warning signs of suicide with the goal of reducing suicide rates.

The LGBTQ community has always been a target population for TSPN and other suicide prevention groups. For various reasons, LGBTQ people are more susceptible to suicide. They are subject to stressors such as bullying, discrimination, the closet, and a lack of support from family and friends. Also, they often have less access to mental health resources, especially in rural areas, says Scott Ridgway, TSPN's executive director.

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Despite a lack of empirical nationwide research on suicide among LGBTQ people, evidence abounds that LGBTQ youths are significantly more susceptible to suicide and suicide ideation. Studies suggest LGBTQ males are 55 percent more prone to suicidal ideation than their heterosexual counterparts. According to a 2001 study, LGBTQ youths surveyed estimated that roughly half their suicidal thoughts are connected to their sexual orientation. Furthermore, suicide attempts by LGBTQ youths tend to be more often result in death or serious injury.

TSPN provides training sessions to LGBTQ-serving agencies and organizations on suicide prevention, teaching people how to spot the signs of a person in crisis and connect them with local mental health resources. It's also working with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services on the state's Zero Suicide Initiative, a plan to help behavioral health and substance abuse treatment facilities in Tennessee eliminate suicides and suicide attempts within their client base through aggressive yet achievable prevention and intervention strategies. It includes guidance and recommendations for professionals and support staff at these agencies regarding the unique problems and concerns of LGBTQ people in crisis.

"We are very fortunate to have in Tennessee an organization that works with all people, including the LGBTQ community, to promote mental health resources and suicide prevention training," says Jon Glassmeyer, chairman of the Bingham Cup organizing committee. LGBTQ students tend to be underrepresented in school athletics teams due to bullying and harassment, according to a study by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Glassmeyer and others argue that inclusive sporting events like the Bingham Cup help break down stigmas that keep them off the field.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek help at once. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and has trained counselors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SCOTT RIDGWAYSCOTT RIDGWAY is the executive director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

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