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Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations

Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations

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Published by Pam Spaulding
Document on Suicide Contagion and how to stop it.
Document on Suicide Contagion and how to stop it.

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Categories:Types, Brochures
Published by: Pam Spaulding on Jun 06, 2011
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02/13/2013

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Talking abouT
Suicide & LGBT Populations
Co-AuthorsContributing Editors
 
Services&Advocacy
forGay,Lesbian,Bisexual&TransgenderElders
 
INTRODUCTION
Expansive news coverage of several recent suicidedeaths of youth known or believed to be gay has resultedin an unprecedented national discussion about suiciderisk among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender(LGBT) people. Some of that coverage, however, hasoversimplied or sensationalized a number of theunderlying issues, and in some cases may have createdthe potential for suicide contagion risk (see below). This guide provides ways to talk about suicide moresafely, while advancing vital public discussions aboutpreventing suicide, helping increase acceptance of LGBT people, and supporting their well-being. The recommendations that follow were adaptedin part from existing research and media educationmaterials developed by leading suicide preventionorganizations, including the American Foundation forSuicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention ResourceCenter. To access some of these original resources,please visit www.lgbtmap.org/talking-about-suicide.
WHAT IS SUICIDE CONTAGION?
Research has shown a link between certain kindsof public visibility and media coverage about suicide,and increases in suicide deaths—a phenomenonknown as
suicide contagion
.
Suicide contagion is mostlikely to occur among persons who are already seriouslydepressed or contemplating suicide.Contagion risk has been observed when:
 
  The number of stories about individual suicidesincreases.
 
 A particular death is reported in great detail acrossmany stories.
 
 Coverage of a suicide death is placed on the frontpage of a newspaper or at the top of a newscast.
 
  The headlines about specic suicide deaths areframed dramatically (e.g., “Bullied Gay Teen CommitsSuicide by Jumping from Bridge”).However, research also shows that risk of suicidecontagion can be reduced when media report on suicidein a responsible way.
TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE IN SAFE &ACCURATE WAYS
 The need for safe public discussions about suicidecannot be overstated. They are a critical part of protecting the health and safety of individuals at risk forsuicide. The following 12 recommendations can expandthese important conversations while helping ensurethat public discussions about suicide avoid inaccuraciesand minimize risk for vulnerable LGBT people:1.
DO emphasize individual and collectiveresponsibility for supporting the well-being of LGBT people.
Remind people that individuals,families, communities and the whole of societyhave a responsibility to promote a culture thatwelcomes, accepts and supports LGBT peoplefor who they are.2.
DO encourage help-seeking by LGBT peoplewho may be contemplating suicide, andemphasize the availability of supportiveresources.
Young LGBT people, in particular,
Bullying & Suicide
Research shows that LGBT youth report higherrates of anti-LGBT harassment and bullying thanstraight youth. But not every person who is thetarget of anti-LGBT bullying is LGBT. Many whoare bullied are targeted because of their
 perceived 
 sexual orientation or because they do not conformto someone’s expectations about gender. The relationship between bullying and suicide iscomplex. Research indicates that persistent bullyingcan lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection,exclusion and despair, as well as to depression andanxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior.However, it is also important to note that thelarge majority of people who experience bullyingdo not become suicidal. Suggesting that suicideis a natural response to bullying can lead media toemphasize details that could increase contagionrisk. If at-risk people see their own experiences of bullying, isolation or exclusion reflected in storiesof those who have died, they may be more likelyto think of suicide as a solution to problems theyare experiencing.
Whenever possible, focus discussions onthe need to systemically address anti-LGBTbullying—but do so in ways that don’t increasesuicide contagion risk.
Avoid taking shortcuts (forexample, avoid saying “bullying causes suicide”)or using terms like “bullycide.” Instead, connectthe need for bullying prevention back to theresponsibility of individuals (like parents, familyand friends), institutions (like schools), laws andsociety to ensure and promote the health, safetyand overall well-being of people of all ages.
 
don’t often hear that there are adults who careabout them and to whom they can go for help.3.
DO emphasize the vital importance of familysupport and acceptance—not just as a factorthat can help protect against suicide, but alsoas a crucial part of nurturing the emotionaland psychological well-being of LGBT andquestioning youth.
Family acceptance builds andsupports the health and well-being of LGBT youth.Discussions that follow youth suicide deathspresent an important opportunity to remindpeople—and families of LGBT youth in particular—of how important it is to love, embrace and accepttheir entire child for all of who they are.4.
DON’T include details of a suicide death in titlesor headlines.
Headlines are often the only thingspeople read, and the need to make them shortand attention-grabbing can lead to an emphasison messages that can increase contagion risk.Also, headlines are often the only things thatappear on social media outlets like Facebook,where contagion risks can also be elevated (see
Talking About Suicide in Social Media
).5.
DON’T describe the method used in a suicidedeath.
Research shows that detailed descriptionsof a person’s suicide death can be a factor inleading vulnerable individuals to imitate the act.6.
DON’T attribute a suicide death to exper-iences known or believed to have occurredshortly before the person died.
The underlyingcauses of most suicide deaths are complex andnot always immediately obvious. Making hastyassumptions about those causes, even whenbased on comments from family or friends ormedia reports, can result in statements thatare later proven to be inaccurate. Don’t risk perpetuating false or misleading informationby jumping to conclusions about the reasonsfor a particular suicide death. Also, directlyattributing a suicide to bullying or anothernegative life event can increase contagionrisk among vulnerable individuals who havesimilar experiences.7.
DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as thelogical consequence of the kinds of bullying,rejection, discrimination and exclusion thatLGBT people often experience.
Presentingsuicide as the inexplicable act of an otherwisehealthy LGBT person—or drawing a direct,causal link between suicide and the bullying ordiscrimination that LGBT people often face—canencourage at-risk individuals to identify with thevictim (or the victim’s life circumstances) andincrease risk of suicidal behavior.8.
DON’T idealize suicide victims or create an auraof celebrity around them.
Research shows thatidealizing people who have died by suicide mayencourage others to identify with the victim orseek to emulate them.9.
DON’T use terms like “bullycide.”
 Thisinaccurate word suggests the murder of a bully,not a suicide death. It can also elevate contagionrisk by suggesting that suicide is a naturalresponse to bullying.10.
DON’T talk about suicide “epidemics.”
 Thiscan encourage at-risk individuals to seethemselves as part of a larger story and mayelevate suicide risk.
Research Findings on Suicide
Discussions about suicide deaths often rely heavilyon numbers and statistics. The following research-based ndings may be helpful in understandingthe complexities of suicide ideation and behavior.
 A suicide attempt is not a strong predictor of completed suicide. Four out of ve people (80%)who die by suicide are male. However, three outof every four people (75%) who make a suicideattempt are female.
Suicide rates generally increase with age, with thehighest rates among those in the midlife years.
 
  There is very little solid information availableabout suicide deaths among LGBT people. Forthis reason, be careful not to misrepresent data onsuicide attempts by LGBT people as indicative of LGBT suicide deaths. The two are not the same.
 In U.S. surveys, lesbian, gay and bi adolescentsand adults have two to six times higher ratesof reported suicide attempts compared tocomparable straight people.
Surveys of transgender people consistentlyreport markedly high rates of suicide attempts.
 
  Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT peopleare individual-level factors such as depressionand experiences of stigma and discrimination,including anti-LGBT hostility, harassment,bullying, and family rejection. There is growingevidence that the two factors are linked.

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