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Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations

Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations

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Published by Ken Williams

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Published by: Ken Williams on Jan 26, 2012
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07/10/2013

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TALKING ABOUT
Suicide & LGBT Populations
Co-AuthorsContributing Editors
 
Services&Advocacy
forGay,Lesbian,Bisexual&TransgenderElders
 
INTRODUCTION
Expansive news coverage o several recent suicide deathso youth known or believed to be gay has resulted in anunprecedented national discussion about suicide risk among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people. Some o that coverage, however, has oversimpliedor sensationalized a number o the underlying issues, andin some cases may have created the potential or suicidecontagion risk (see below). This guide provides ways to talk about suicide saely andeectively, while advancing vital public discussions aboutpreventing suicide, helping increase acceptance o LGBTpeople, and supporting their well-being. The recommendations that ollow were adapted in partrom existing research and media education materialsdeveloped by leading suicide prevention organizations,including the American Foundation or SuicidePrevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. To access some o these original resources, please visitwww.lgbtmap.org/talking-about-suicide.
WHAT IS SUICIDE CONTAGION?
Research has shown a link between certain kinds o public visibility and media coverage about suicide, andincreases in suicide deaths—a phenomenon known as
suicide contagion
.
Suicide contagion is most likely to occuramong persons who are already seriously depressed orcontemplating suicide.Contagion risk has been observed when:
 
  The number o stories about individual suicides increases.
 
 A particular death is reported in great detail across manystories.
 
 Coverage o a suicide death is placed on the ront page o a newspaper or at the top o a newscast.
 
  The headlines about specic suicide deaths are rameddramatically (or example, “Bullied Gay Teen CommitsSuicide by Jumping rom Bridge”).However, research also shows that risk o suicide contagioncan be reduced when media report on suicide in aresponsible way.
TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE IN SAFE &ACCURATE WAYS
 The need or sae public discussions about suicide cannotbe overstated. They are a critical part o protecting thehealth and saety o individuals at risk or suicide. Theollowing 12 recommendations can expand these importantconversations while helping ensure that public discussionsabout suicide avoid inaccuracies and minimize risk orvulnerable LGBT people:
1.DO emphasize individual and collective responsibilityor supporting the well-being o LGBT people.
Remindpeople that individuals, amilies, communities andthe whole o society have a responsibility to promotea culture that welcomes, accepts and supports LGBTpeople or who they are.
2.DO encourage help-seeking by LGBT people whomay be contemplating suicide, and emphasize theavailability o supportive resources.
Young LGBT people,in particular, don’t oten hear that there are adults whocare about them and to whom they can go or help.
Bullying & Suicide
Research shows that LGBT youth report higher rateso anti-LGBT harassment and bullying than straightyouth. But not every person who is the target o anti-LGBT bullying is LGBT. Many who are bullied aretargeted because o their perceived sexual orientationor because they do not conorm to someone’sexpectations about gender. The relationship between bullying and suicide iscomplex. Research indicates that persistent bullyingcan lead to or worsen eelings o 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 the largemajority o people who experience bullying do notbecome suicidal. Suggesting that suicide is a naturalresponse to bullying can lead media to emphasizedetails that could increase contagion risk. I at-risk people see their own experiences o bullying, isolationor exclusion reected in stories o those who have died,they may be more likely to think o suicide as a solutionto problems they are experiencing.
Whenever possible, ocus discussions on the needto systemically address anti-LGBT bullying—butdo so in ways that don’t increase suicide contagionrisk.
Avoid taking shortcuts (or example, avoid saying“bullying causes suicide”) or using terms like “bullycide.Instead, connect the need or bullying prevention back to the responsibility o individuals (like parents, amilyand riends), institutions (like schools), laws and societyto ensure and promote the health, saety and overallwell-being o people o all ages.
 
3.DO emphasize the vital importance o amily supportand acceptance—not just as a actor that can helpprotect against suicide, but also as a crucial part o nurturing the emotional and psychological well-beingo LGBT and questioning youth.
Family acceptancebuilds and supports the health and well-being o LGBTyouth. Discussions that ollow youth suicide deathspresent an important opportunity to remind people—and amilies o LGBT youth in particular—o howimportant it is to love, embrace and accept their entirechild or all o who they are.
4.DON’T include details o a suicide death in titles orheadlines.
Headlines are oten the only things peopleread, and the need to make them short and attention-grabbing can lead to an emphasis on messages thatcan increase contagion risk. Also, headlines are otenthe only things that appear on social media outlets likeFacebook, where contagion risks can also be elevated(see
Talking About Suicide in Social Media
).
5.DON’T describe the method used in a suicide death.
 Research shows that detailed descriptions o a person’ssuicide death can be a actor in leading vulnerableindividuals to imitate the act.
6.DON’T attribute a suicide death to experiencesknown or believed to have occurred shortly beorethe person died.
The underlying causes o most suicidedeaths are complex and not always immediatelyobvious. Making hasty assumptions about those causes,even when based on comments rom amily or riendsor media reports, can result in statements that are laterproven to be inaccurate. Don’t risk perpetuating alseor misleading inormation by jumping to conclusionsabout the reasons or a particular suicide death. Also,directly attributing a suicide to bullying or anothernegative lie event can increase contagion risk amongvulnerable individuals who have similar experiences.
7.DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as the logi-cal consequence o the kinds o bullying, rejection,discrimination and exclusion that LGBT people otenexperience.
Presenting suicide as the inexplicable act o an otherwise healthy LGBT person—or drawing a direct,causal link between suicide and the bullying or discrimi-nation that LGBT people oten ace—can encourage at-risk individuals to identiy with the victim (or the victim’slie circumstances) and increase risk o suicidal behavior.
8.DON’T idealize suicide victims or create an aura o celebrity around them.
Research shows that idealizingpeople who have died by suicide may encourage othersto identiy with the victim or seek to emulate them.
9.DON’T use terms like “bullycide.”
This inaccurate wordsuggests the murder o a bully, not a suicide death.It can also elevate contagion risk by suggesting thatsuicide is a natural response to bullying.
10.DON’T talk about suicide “epidemics.”
This canencourage at-risk individuals to see themselves as parto a larger story and may elevate suicide risk.
11.DON’T use words like “successul,” “unsuccessul” or“ailed” when talking about suicide.
It is extremelydangerous to suggest that non-atal suicide attemptsrepresent “ailure,” or that completed suicides are“successul.Instead, simply talk about a
suicidedeath
or
attempted suicide
. Also avoid the phrase“committed suicide.” The word “committed” is usuallyassociated with a criminal act and can re-victimizesurviving amily. Say
died by suicide
or that the deathwas a
suicide death
instead.
Research Findings on Suicide
Discussions about suicide deaths oten rely heavilyon numbers and statistics. The ollowing research-based ndings may be helpul in understanding thecomplexities o suicide ideation and behavior.
 A suicide attempt is not a strong predictor o com-pleted suicide. Four out o ve people (80%) whodie by suicide are male. However, three out o everyour people (75%) who make a suicide attempt areemale.
Suicide rates generally increase with age, with thehighest rates among those in the midlie years.
 
  There is very little solid inormation available aboutsuicide deaths among LGBT people. For this reason,be careul not to misrepresent data on suicideattempts by LGBT people as indicative o LGBTsuicide deaths. The two are not the same.
 In U.S. surveys, lesbian, gay and bi adolescents andadults have two to six times higher rates o re-ported suicide attempts compared to comparablestraight people.
Surveys o transgender people consistently reportmarkedly high rates o suicide attempts.
 
  Two key suicide risk actors or LGBT people areindividual-level actors such as depression andexperiences o stigma and discrimination, includinganti-LGBT hostility, harassment, bullying and amilyrejection. There is growing evidence that the twoactors are linked.

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