Harsh statistics bring professionals together to discuss LGBTQ suicide prevention

Phoenix Blume-Lease (left) and Lain Lease man the booth for The LGBT Youth Space from San Jose, Calif., one of the many organizations with booths set up at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention San Francisco Bay Area Chapter’s Conference on LGBT Suicide Risk and Prevention in Cesar Chavez Student Center Saturday, March 22. Photo by Jessica Christian / Xpress

Compared to the national average of 8-10 percent suicide attempts of adolescents, the LGBTQ community has over twice that number with a 30 percent attempted suicide rate amongst adolescents.

These facts brought professionals together for the Conference on LGBT Suicide Prevention Friday, March 22. The San Francisco American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), health care providers and other professionals joined at SF State to speak on suicide prevention within the LGBTQ community.

“Community support literally saved my life,” said Mayela Zuniga, a youth mentor at the Rainbow Community Center. “I almost feel I get as much out of the work as the clients that I serve. I don’t want them to go through any of the things that I went through and if they are going through it or anything worse, I want them to know they’re not alone and there is someone there to support them.”

Ann Haas, senior consultant of the AFSP, started the conference with an overview of suicide risk and prevention. During Haas’ lecture, she presented statistics showing the dramatic difference in attempted suicide between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

Founded by Michael King in 2008, the study showed that 10-20 percent of LGBTQ adults have attempted suicide compared to 4.6 percent of U.S. adults that have attempted suicide. Thirty percent of LGBTQ adolescents have attempted suicide compared to 8-10 percent of U.S. adolescents that have attempted suicide.

Some of the speakers included Caitlin Ryan, the director of the Acceptance Project at SF State, and Ilan Meyer, a psychiatric epidemiologist from Williams Institute of UCLA.

The group also dispersed into smaller “breakout sessions,” or discussions with a more focused topic, such as enhancing services to LGBTQ older adults, ages 40 and above, or working with faith communities to prevent suicide among LGBTQ populations.

The second half of the day was comprised entirely of these sessions, and gave attendees a chance to focus more on their topic of interest in a smaller setting.

“This is an important organization for me because people in my life have died from suicide,” said Maureen Sullivan, a volunteer at the conference and SF State alumna. “We’ve had too many students die from suicide in the past 12 years. The whole LGBT component is important because LGBT youth are at a much higher risk for suicide than other youth and they got plenty going on as it is being a teenager and then you add the whole societal component.”

The event ran all day, from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Immediately following was a reception, completing the 10-hour day with food and wine.

“All the events are put on by volunteers; it is all made up of people who have been touched in some way,” said Ryan Ayers, the Northern California area director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “None of this happens without people just caring enough to come and help put it on.”