Conference addresses Utah LGBT youth suicide

by Connie Anast-Inman

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted a conference, Stronger Communities: LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention, packing a ballroom at the Little America Hotel with over 150 mental health professionals, educators, administrators, clergy and informed parents Tuesday, April 18. Several speakers hosted training specifically designed for the unique challenges facing the LGBTQ community, including the prevalence of suicide among those in religious communities in Utah. The Utah Chapter of AFSP is in its seventh year received the 2016 Chapter of the Year award from the national organization.

Opening speaker Taryn Aiken Hatt, co-founder of the Utah Chapter of the AFSP, addressed the startling facts of suicide, citing suicide as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, with 44,193 people dying by suicide per year.

“Let me just say this – suicide is a health issue. I cannot underscore that enough,” said Aiken Hatt. She emphasized how the mental health community and primary care physicians need to work hand-in-hand to prevent suicide attempts in the same manner doctors work together to prevent other diseases. The medical community gives attention and seeks funding to HIV, heart disease and cancer, since morbidity rates are  trackable and readily available for those diseases. The same cannot be said for suicide.

Aiken Hatt stated the reason for suicide attempts are due to many inter-sectional factors, such as minority status, socio-economic conditions and accessibility to treatment. Nine out of 10 people who have completed their suicide attempt having a diagnosable mental health issue prior to their death.

“Today, we are hoping everyone benefits from updated, accurate information that helps them in a meaningful way. Family Acceptance – we have found that it has the biggest impact and is the most challenging thing with the prevalent LDS culture in Utah,” said Aiken Hatt.

She also talked about her own experiences, as both a suicide attempt survivor and a survivor of suicide loss. Aiken Hatt lost her father to suicide in 2002.

“When you are feeling hopeless, reach out to your safe person. Before you get to that point, know who your safe people are, then reach out to them. And if you are a survivor of suicide loss, you need to now that it’s okay to talk about it. You honor their memory by telling their story,” she said.

Keynote speaker Dr. Caitlyn Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project for San Francisco State University, addressed several issues specific to the LGBTQ community, highlighting the rate of LGBTQ people who are homeless, those who experience family rejection and religious intolerance as being key factors in suicide ideation and attempts. Up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, she said, and family rejection compounds the already delicate position of LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

“Family rejection is the most important factor in lowering suicide risks to our youth,” Ryan said.

According to compelling research on young LGBTQ people and families from the Family Acceptance Project, family acceptance helps promote well-being and helps protect against risk. Family rejection, on the other hand, is related to serious health concerns including suicidality, depression, substance abuse and STDs. FAP has developed an affirmative evidence-based family intervention approach to help ethnically and religiously diverse families prevent specific family rejecting behaviors associated with suicide risk. This family intervention approach builds on family strengths such as cultural and religious values to empower diverse families to support their LGBTQ children. The FAP’s work and research-based best practice materials are helping communities across the country see families as a critical resource for prevention and wellness.

“Early exposure to LGBTQ education can prevent suicide in children experiencing family conflict regarding religion,” Ryan said.

Dr. John R. Blosnich, a research health scientist with the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, spoke about the glaring issue facing all LGBTQ suicide prevention professionals – the lack of accurate statistics regarding gender identity and sexual orientation reporting in death reports. Currently, there is not a national repository or information gathering tool which specifically asks information to identify LGBTQ people.

“In the United States, 2 million people die every year. Right now, there is no mechanism in place to report if any of them are LGBTQ. Nothing. Lack of LGBTQ status in data harms our statistics and our ability to use information in the same way as race or gender or risk,” he said.

Dr. Blosnich stated that the best information they have been able to gather nationally and statewide has been through surveys, yet some families are unwilling to admit gender or orientation variances and some simply do not know. In addition, to reach information regarding minorities and rare outcomes, great amounts of time and large samples are needed.

The Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion has been working closely with reporting agencies to include gender identity and sexuality markers on reporting diagrams in an effort to accurately track causes of death. Beta testing for the reporting will begin later this year.

“By learning about death, we learn about life and prevention, and if our efforts are working. This information can mobilize resources where they are needed,” he said.

David Bond, vice president of programs of the Trevor Project, cited suicide as the second leading cause of death nationwide for people between the ages of 15 and 24, with Utah ranking fifth worst in the nation in 2015. LGB community members are four times more likely to attempt suicide, with transgender people being up to eight times more likely. Bond spoke about the Trevor Projects, including the well-known hotline and the new online forums and text support for young adults both under 18 and up to 23. The Trevor Project employs several age-based identifying resources to limit connection between individuals under and over 18 for their protection, as well as follow-up with individuals to ensure they are able to access assistance.

“Our goal is not to get someone to the next morning. Our goal is to eradicate suicide completely,” said Bond.

Breakout sessions included “Suicide prevention and Intervention,” “Spirituality, Religiosity and Suicide Prevention Among LGBTQ Youth,” “Turning to Triumph in the Transgender Community,” and “Why Are Our Graveyards full of Rainbows – Considerations for Suicide Prevention in LGBTQIA+ Communities.”

In attendance at the conference were members of Equality Utah, who earlier this year were successful in efforts to repeal “No Promo Homo” laws, which prevented school officials from discussing homosexuality in a positive context. Troy Williams, executive director of EU, said, “We have to do everything in our power to create a culture where LGBTQ youth in Utah know they are valued, included and loved. They need to know there are people and professionals who are fighting for our community and our youth.”

Stronger Communities: LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention was co-sponsored by the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Utah Department of Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Division, and Utah Department of Health. The goal is to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ suicide risk, bring research findings to the attention of professionals and the public, and explore strategies for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention in local communities. The conference focused on making mental health, suicide prevention, and education an LGBTQ+ community priority.

To become an Advocate, go to www.AFSP.org/advocacy to sign up
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255); Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
The Trevor Project  http://www.thetrevorproject.org  1-866-488-7386 or Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200.

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