The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosted an LGBT suicide prevention symposium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Feinberg School of Medicine April 20.
About 100 people gathered to hear leaders in the field of mental health and the LGBT community present information on suicide prevention and survivor support within the LGBT community.
Mike McRaith, director of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) of the U.S. and AFSP board member, gave the opening address. As director of the FIO, McRaith is responsible for monitoring all aspects of the insurance sector as well as coordinating federal efforts and developing federal policy on international insurance matters. He also serves as an advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on domestic and international insurance issues.
McRaith praised the work that the AFSP does and shared that he is a survivor of loss by suicide. McRaith explained that his boyfriend of two years, Eric Myers, committed suicide in the summer of 1996. To cope with the loss, McRaith saw a therapist, however, the pain of Myers' suicide hasn't left him, McRaith noted. After Myers' suicide McRaith said he received a lot of support from family members and friends. "What's more important than you not being alone (as a survivor of loss by suicide) is that we are in this together," said McRaith.
Then Dr. Brian Mustanski, AFSP grant recipient and director of Northwestern's IMPACT Center, spoke about the IMPACT program and then shared the results of various LGBT suicide prevention research studies. In his presentation, Mustanski said that suicide completion is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults adding that LGBT youth are one population that has a greater risk for suicide completion.
One study, Mustanski explained, showed that mental and addictive disorders, hopelessness and early puberty are factors that increase the risk of suicide among LGBT youth. "Some studies have linked younger age at 'coming out' and being more 'out' to family and community to increased suicidal attempts while others have found the opposite effect," said Mustanski. Other studies showed that victimization, gender non-conformity and social policies that are unsupportive increase risk for suicide among LGBT youth, according to Mustanski. The priorities for reducing suicide risk among LGBT youth is lessening victimization and increasing support for LGBT youth, supporting healthy romantic relationships and improving social acceptance and supportive social policies, noted Mustanski.
Brother Michael Oboza, Orthodox Catholic Eastern Rite monastic, founder of Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago and the first bisexual liaison to the Center on Halsted, spoke about bisexual equality and suicide prevention. Many people don't understand or won't accept that bisexuals exist within and outside of the LGBT community, noted Oboza. Studies show that bisexuals struggle at a higher percentage than their gay, lesbian and straight counterparts, Oboza remarked.
Then Oboza talked about his suicide attempt at the age of 31. He also shared the stories of four bisexual individuals (Bill Clayton, August Provost, Anthony Stubbs and Kitty McGuire) who committed suicide. As Oboza told their stories, he held up their picture and then ripped the picture in half, symbolizing their deaths.
In his remarks Dr. Al Estock, survivor of loss by suicide and Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Community Walk participant, shared that he has known multiple people who have died by suicide including his partner Warren Merz in 2008. Estock noted that Merz was reluctant to seek help due to the stigma associated with mental issues and suicidal thoughts. "Prior to and following Warren's death, I lived my life with my own ignorance about suicide and mental health challenges ... I am still trying to educate myself," said Estock. He shared that he too thought about committing suicide following Merz's death.
Presenting people who commit suicide in a negative light results in preventing people most at risk from seeking help or communicating their thoughts and plans, Estock remarked. Estock shared that the way to change people's attitudes is to talk openly about suicide and educate people about suicide using anti-stigma messages, anti-stigma training and anti-stigma lobbying campaigns.
The day also featured a number of panel discussions. The "Throughout Life" panel speakers were Brighid O'Shaughnessy, founder and executive artistic director of Erasing the Distance; Britta Larson, senior services director for the Center on Halsted's SAGE program; Lara Brooks, director of Howard Brown Health Center's Broadway Youth Center; and Lashawnda Carter, outreach coordinator of the National Runaway Safeline.
Speakers for the "Law" panel included James L. Bennett, regional director of Lambda Legal; Lori Fox of Out and Equal; Illinois State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14th); and Steve Moore, legislative advocacy committee chairperson of the AFSP.
Representing the perspective of the "Media" were panelists Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of the Advocate Magazine; Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group; and Adrienne Williams, bisexual writer and from the AFSP Media Watchers Group.
"Community Resources" was the subject of the final panel for the day. Krista Walker of Youth Outlook; Lawrence Carter, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance GSA network coordinator; and Simon Chavez, AFSP LGBT Outreach Committee co-chairperson were the featured speakers.
Sponsors for the symposium included IMPACT, the LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University; Chicago's Progressive Talk WCPT AM & FM; Windy City Media Group; PepsiCo; Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Community Walk; and the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
See www.afsp.org/local-chapters/find-your-local-chapter/illinois for more information.
Note: More details on some of the panels will be reported in upcoming editions of WCT.