Stephen Gilbert MP writes: How do we deal with the high prevalence of suicides in the LGBT community?

We all know how the following story works. Governments use stats to demonstrate the problem. And then they give us their answer. The more shocking the figures, so it goes, the greater the need for bold action. But too often we don’t consider the human impact of these figures.

Let me give you an example. This week I learnt that every two hours one person dies as a result of suicide in England. It is truly harrowing to think that each and every day, so many people feel they have nowhere else to turn and end up taking their lives. We must do better in preventing such a tragic loss of life. And we must start by looking at how Government can contribute.

That’s why Paul Burstow’s announcement on Tuesday that the Government is launching a consultation on its suicide prevention strategy should be welcomed as a much needed effort to reduce the number of suicides in this country.

If Lib Dem Voice readers are shocked by the high numbers of people committing suicide each day, then they may be slightly less surprised to read that gay people are twice as likely to attempt suicide. Anyone who has struggled to come to terms with their sexuality will recognise the angst and emotion that this can cause. It’s of course one of the reasons why lesbian, gay and bisexual people are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol and other substance dependence. But that’s not the only factor. One Danish study found that the suicide risk among gay men in civil partnerships is eight times higher than in heterosexual couples and twice as high as the risk in men who have never married.

So the question we need to ask ourselves remains, how do we deal with the high prevalence of suicides in the LGBT community?

The Government’s suicide prevention strategy makes a couple of useful suggestions:

The first focuses on effective local intervention. The consultation recommends ensuring that greater awareness is placed on staff in primary and secondary health care, social services, and education of the higher rates of mental distress, substance misuse, increased risks of self harm, and suicidal behaviour in these groups. These are the people mostly likely to come into contact with someone contemplating taking their own life. They are also the people best placed to give them they help that they need. So it’s vital that they know what signs they should be looking for.

One other area is how we can provide national action to support local approaches. PACE, the LGBT voluntary sector research, counselling and advocacy organisation, has recently reviewed web-based mental health promotion and preventative information, support and advice services for LGBT people. Its report Where to Turn outlines a number of findings in the context of both suicide prevention and equality issues. Directing local services and external partners to this report, and its findings, would certainly help plan and deliver mental health promotion, substance misuse and other support advice services for LGBT people.

Losing a loved one to suicide is a tragedy. The fact that the risk of suicide is higher in the LGBT community doesn’t make it any more of a tragedy. But it does make you think about how we can help spot the early signs of suicidal depression amongst LGBT people.

As a gay MP, I take pride in the fact that this Coalition Government, and indeed a Liberal Democrat Minister, has been bold enough to ask this question.

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3 Comments

  • jenny barnes 21st Jul '11 - 3:50pm

    The T in LGBT does stand for something, you know. LGBT includes transsexual people, not just LGB. Studies have shown that more than 50% of transsexual people have attempted suicide. You can safely assume that a large fraction of the rest have seriously considered it. One reason among many might be people talking about helping LGBT people, and then only considering cissexual LGBs.

  • socialiberal 22nd Jul '11 - 9:40am

    This is highly welcome attention on mental health amongst LGB and T people. However, one of the barriers is that the mental health community have always been aware of an elephant in the room; prejudice and discrimination. So much of the struggling to come to terms with your own sexuality or gender identity is actually about fear – fear of being disowned by those around you and fear of discrimination in any form. Recognising this and continuing to tackle homophobic and transphobic prejudice and discrimination may offer some hope.

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