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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
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Suicide & LGBT Populations
Co-AuthorsContributing Editors
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.
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.
 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
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
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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