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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Providers discuss risk factors for LGBT suicides
by Matt Simonette
2017-09-27

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While health providers and researchers agree that LGBT individuals can be at a higher risk for attempting or completing suicide, the extent of that risk is difficult to determine. If a person completes a suicide, oftentimes few people know whether or not that person was a member of the LGBT community.

Suicide in the last 10-15 years or is up about 24 percent across all communities, said psychiatrist Andrew Segovia Kulick, M.D., of Cook County Health & Hospitals System. "When we talk about suicide it's a major problem for ages 15-34," he added. "It's the second leading cause of death [in that age group], and when you try to discuss LGBT issues, that's about the age where people are having identity issues around their identity and learning who they are."

Kulick added, "There's not much data out there because, with completed suicides, they don't really check sexual orientation of the issues … but we know that the LGBT community does suffer from higher levels of depression and substance abuse, and that tends to lead to higher levels of suicide completion."

It often takes more than one stressor to lead a person to contemplate suicide, such as "loss of a job, loss of a loved one, trouble at school—and then you have the added stress of your identity on top of it, which makes things worse," said Kulick.

Howard Brown Health Behavioral Health Services Senior Director Kelly Ducheny said that current events can leave community members feeling more "fatigued and overwhelmed," adding that, "So much more has to go into the feeling of protection for the self and the community. So much energy goes into just managing the fear that is just washing in waves over the community, as a next announcement is made or a new danger presents itself."

Ducheny emphasized that Howard Brown had not seen a short-term surge in suicide ideation, but said, "The stresses of living in America right now, trying to find ways in just getting through the day are difficult."

Several communities, the LGBT community among them, have been targeted and demonized by politicians and others who have public forums, she noted.

"When those targeted identities make up your identity, the stress is cumulative," explained Ducheny. "Folks of color; folks that are trans or gender non-conforming; folks that are DACA, immigrants or refugees; folks that are LGBTQ—the targeting is so clear and so sharp, and if you mix that with all the national and international disasters that are occurring, you are just constantly bombarded with trauma, hopelessness, fear and the feeling that the ground that felt steady under your feet just isn't steady anymore."

Among the warning signs that a loved one or friend might be contemplating suicide are, according to Kulick, if they speak often about being a burden or have little will to live; uncharacteristic discussions about guns or particular medications; excessive drug or alcohol use; avoiding friends or family; excessive sleeping; or aggressive behavior.

Ducheny said a sharp increase in risky behavior was another warning sign. "If they hop down on the tracks at an L station, or are driving really irratically, that might be a sign," she explained. "Stepping in front of cars, and saying 'If I die, I die,' is another."

She also noted that among the biggest risk factors is a personal loss.

"That can be financial, or a love relationship, or even a roommate," she said. "That can be something happening where you feel threatened at your job or at school. That can be where you thought you had a solution for a problem … and that solution is lost."

Previous attempts are another risk factor, as are signs that someone is making a plan or laying the groundwork for their death, Ducheny said. She further emphasized it was important for persons to never doubt the sincerity of anyone who talks about suicide, and not just assume that it is a play for attention or sympathy.

"Sometimes people are trying to communicate intense levels of despair and depression, and sometimes they're looking for words to understand that," she noted. "[The concept of] suicide can help someone understand how desperate, frightened and overwhelmed they are feeling. If someone talks about it, you have to take it seriously."

Asking whether someone has suicidal intentions will never create or increase the risk of that person's suicide, Ducheny emphasized. "If people tell you about it, it was there to start with. You will never feed [the desire] or strengthen it by asking about it. You will just understand it better."

A number of resources are available both for persons contemplating suicide as well as persons impacted by someone's contemplated, attempted or completed suicide.

"You can encourage the person to call to get help, you can call with them sitting there or you can call yourself and say, 'This has just been disclosed to me,'" Ducheny said. "The people on these hotlines are trained to respectfully and affirmatively manage this kind of risk. They will offer support to people providing care and to people having those feelings."

Ducheny and Kulick both recommended turning to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org . Ducheny also said that transgender persons may wish to speak with the TransLifeline at 877-565-8860.


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