Acceptance is the best suicide prevention

Gary Hollander

Thank you to Wisconsin Gazette for excellent coverage in the Oct. 7 issue of the critical problem of suicide among LGBT youth. Certainly the personal tragedy of friends and family of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University resonates with LGBT people and our allies.

Diverse and Resilient’s board and staff are saddened by the news of these deaths. These private tragedies also have a public cost. Each death by suicide points to reduced contributions to society and a diminution of life for us all.

Thanks, too, to Lisa Neff for including examples of national programs addressing suicide and anti-bullying efforts. It is notable that these national programs actually have a limited ability to meet the needs of Wisconsin youth and families. Similarly, national education campaigns on bullying provide useful information for classrooms, but this puts interested classroom teachers in the unenviable position of trying to implement programming without coaching, consultation, administrative supports, program planning and evaluation or funds.

For 11 years Diverse and Resilient has advocated for the inclusion of sexual behavior, sexual orientation and gender expression and gender identity questions to be added to local, state and national health data surveys. We have had some success with the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. These have shown us that Wisconsin teens who engage in same-sex behavior are significantly more likely to have considered suicide, made a plan to kill themselves, attempted suicide and made an attempt serious enough to require medical intervention.

But supports to take action remain minimal. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services website shows no program supports to aid in prevention of suicide among LGBT youth. Mental Health American Wisconsin Chapter is the same. In fact, the latter quibbles over the reliability of the data that the state itself collects about mental health needs.

Diverse and Resilient, together with our colleagues at FORGE, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, SAGE Milwaukee and Pathfinders, all do our part to address the mental health needs of LGBT people. But we do so with woefully insufficient resources to meet the magnitude of the problem. LGBT youth and adults still live in communities and families where they are socially isolated. Even those among us who enjoy optimal family supports reside in a state that amended its constitution to limit our right to pursue happiness.

Wisconsin residents, particularly its voters, must decide to stand as witnesses to the poor treatment LGBT people – particularly youth – receive in our state. Then  they must take action to support us in making all of our lives worth living.