Editor’s note: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project also has a 24-hour suicide hotline for the LGBTQ+ community at 1-866-488-7386.
The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition released a new plan this month that provides a first-of-its kind road map to reducing suicide rates among the state’s vulnerable LGBTQ+ community.
The most significant area for improvement the report reveals is a need for better education among health care providers about LGBTQ+ individuals, their particular health needs and the barriers they face in accessing care, said Ray Bailey, co-chair of the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition’s LGBTQ+ Work Group.
But the report also highlights the need for more awareness of LGBTQ+ identities on an individual level, as well.
“Making sure that we’re challenging when others around us may say things that are homophobic and are not accepting of LGBTQ people” is important, said Bailey, who’s also a youth suicide prevention manager at the State Department of Human Services. “So on a smaller, more-one-on one scale, being more supportive of LGBTQ people and making sure spaces feel safe for them.”
While the year-to-year rate of suicide in Utah decreased slightly last year, it remains a leading cause of death in the Beehive State, which consistently ranks in the top 10 in the United States for suicide deaths. In the past five years, Utah has lost nearly 3,200 residents to suicide, a number equivalent to the combined populations of Daggett and Piute counties.
And this report notes that the LGBTQ+ population is particularly at risk, due not to their “gender identity in and of itself” but because they experience “increased risk factors, specifically around mental health issues and substance abuse due to lower levels of acceptance and belonging in the broader community."
Research suggests that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are two times more likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual adults. And the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts among adults who are transgender is 40%, the report notes.
For the first time last year, gender identity and sexual orientation were added to Utah’s statewide Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey, providing new insight into suicide risk for LGBTQ+ youth in Utah.
The survey found that bisexual students reported the highest percentage of suicidal ideation at 52.5%, followed by gay and lesbian students at 47.6%. Around 27% of those who were surveyed who said they were not sure or chose “other” for sexual orientation reported ideation while 15.3% of heterosexual students said the same.
Because the LGBTQ+ community is “at significantly higher risks for suicide and for suicide thoughts,” this roadmap “has been something that our communities have needed for a long time,” Robert Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, wrote in a letter preceding the report.
The plan, he said, “provides clear approaches and metrics to prevention and care that are important for all in our communities to know and understand.”
Some of the goals for preventing suicide among Utah’s LGBTQ+ community in the plan are somewhat ambiguous, such as increasing social norms that are “supportive of help seeking and recovery” through the promotion of acceptance and inclusivity. That could also be done through collaboration with state agencies to create “culturally appropriate suicide prevention messaging,” the plan states.
Other objectives are more specific, like reducing access to “lethal means” by distributing gun locks, safes and medication lockboxes and bags to LGBTQ+ people and others.
The plan also points to a need to increase prevention and early intervention for mental health problems, suicide ideation and behaviors and substance misuse among the LGBTQ+ population through “culturally appropriate” mental health screenings and referrals and evidence-based and inclusive health education programs in schools.
Access to mental health care has been noted as a problem in the Beehive State in the past. Research produced last year by the nonprofit Mental Health America showed Utah ranked No. 50 in a national analysis that measured each state’s rate of mental illness and access to mental health care for adults.
Fewer than 44% of Utah adults with a mental illness received care in 2015, according to federal data parsed in a report last year by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association.
The Suicide Prevention Coalition’s LGBTQ+ report also points to a need for better data collection and analysis on risk and protective factors for suicide. One of the ways proposed to get there is to partner with the state’s medical examiner to increase access to data regarding suicide fatalities in the community.
Utah is one of the first states to adopt an LGBTQ-specific suicide prevention plan, said Katie Perkins, the suicide prevention and services manager at the Utah Pride Center, something she said “speaks volumes from a state perspective.”
“They’re seeing us in our unique challenges and needs and trying to address those," she said.
Overall, Bailey said their hope for the report is that it can make a challenging problem feel a little bit easier to address and that “people at every level of Utah can see that it’s not that hard to just respect someone and be accepting and do really small things that have a big impact.”
“Suicide is a preventable death," Bailey added, “and I think we all have the capacity to do a little bit more to reduce that risk for LGBTQ people and all people in Utah.”
The Suicide Prevention Coalition released a more general prevention plan in 2017, with the short-term goal of reducing suicide rates in Utah by 10% by 2021 and a longer-term goal of eventually achieving zero suicides in the state.