Sunday, July 3, 2016

Utah's Suicide Crisis

There have been five known suicides in Utah over the past few days. One of my Mama Dragon friends, Debra Coe, checks with the health department and other sources and verifies details and numbers. The details she shared included their ages and locations, and whether or not they were known to identify as LGBTQ. Four of the five did, ages 17, 17, 18 and 20-something (BYU graduate). For one 13 year old, it is unknown.

The following article appeared in the paper:

Utah officials unsure why youth suicide rate has nearly tripled since 2007
By MICHELLE L. PRICE The Associated Press
First Published     •    Last Updated Jul 03 2016 11:56 am
Report » No clear cause identified, but some risk factors are found more often in the region. 
Utah health officials are grappling with a rising youth suicide rate that's nearly tripled since 2007 and is now the leading cause of death among 10- to 17-year-olds in Utah. 
A state report released this month shows Utah's youth suicide was 8.5 per 100,000 people in 2014, the most recent data available. 
In 2007, the rate was 3.0 per 100,000. 
Health officials, suicide prevention advocates and educators have been working to curb suicides, but officials don't know why Utah's child suicide rate is more than double the national rate and climbing.
State health officials haven't been able to find any clear causes of the state's growing rate, but the health department is working to launch an in-depth study, said Andrea Hood, a suicide prevention coordinator at the Utah Department of Health. 
Hood said there are some risk factors found more frequently in Utah and other Rocky Mountain states that may explain why suicide rates are higher in those states than the national average. 
Residents in Utah move more frequently, which could leave them with fewer social connections and support. There are also theories that lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes can contribute to higher suicide rates and a western, rugged mentality of self-reliance may keep some from seeking help for depression. Utah and other Rocky Mountain states also have higher rates of gun ownership.
Firearm owners aren't more likely to die by suicide, but people who commit suicide are more likely to use guns if they own them than any other method, Hood said. 
That extends to children, as nearly half of the youth who have died from suicide in recent years used a firearm. To try to prevent that, advocates are encouraging gun owners to ensure their weapons are secure and last year, Utah began distributing 40,000 free cable gun locks. 
Much of the work to combat youth suicides is done in public schools. The state has worked to get prevention programs in every school, offering help to parents, teachers, administrators and students about watching for signs of depression, risk factors for suicide and intervention. 
State law requires all teachers to undergo two hours of training about youth suicide prevention, and Utah lawmakers in 2013 required the state office of education to hire a full-time suicide prevention coordinator. 
The goal is to train "the gatekeepers, the people that are on the front lines with the kids," said Cathy Davis, the suicide prevention specialist with Utah's state education office. 
"You want to create this great safety net for kids because it's really taking all of us to help prevent suicide," Davis said. "It's just making everybody alert to the signs of suicide, what to look out for, what signs of depression are in youth." 
Davis and other advocates are also pointing to a new smartphone app Utah lawmakers voted to create last year called SafeUT, where people can have confidential and anonymous chats with crisis counselors at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute. 
Officials say the app helps technologically savvy young people connect with help outside of a traditional phone hotline. In addition to using the app to text, call or submit tips about depression and suicide, the app allows students to speak to someone about bullying, threats of violence, drug problems and more. 
"Students need skills to know how to navigate the terrain of adolescence. It's a tough area, I think for a lot of kids," Davis said. "That gives them a safe way to text and access help."
As usual, Scott posted this link on Facebook along with his own articulate commentary, with which I cannot argue.

"Well, let’s see... 
I came out in 2008, very shortly after LDS leadership sent a letter to local leaders in California—to be read over the pulpit—directing members to give abundantly of their time and money in order to ensure the passage of Prop 8 (which would eliminate the right, recently granted by the courts, of same-sex couples to marry). 
This marked the beginning of the LDS church’s very public fight against the LGBTQ community (it had been fighting marriage equality behind the scenes since the mid 1990s, but had managed to keep its efforts secret for over a decade). Almost overnight, Mormonism became synonymous with homophobia. 
Despite occasional token (and public-relations-driven) overtures toward the LGBTQ community (like the SLC anti-discrimination ordinance that the church supported after ensuring that it was exempt), as society at large became ever more accepting of gay people, LDS leadership dug in its heels and became increasingly dogged (and vocal) in its anti-gay rhetoric and policies. They paid lip service to the importance of loving LGBTQ friends and family members, while continuing to denigrate LGBTQ individuals and their families both explicitly and implicitly. 
Most recently, the LDS church amended its policy manual with a declaration that any gay member who married someone of the same sex was to be considered apostate—an enemy to the church—and was to be excommunicated. Worse, their children were to be denied rites of passage like baptism and ordination to the priesthood until they reached adulthood and explicitly denounced their gay parent’s marriage. 
Gay youth in the LDS church are constantly and aggressively bombarded with a message of rejection. They are made to understand quite clearly that they are broken, that the love they may feel for a partner is counterfeit, and that they (and their future children) will be rejected and shunned if they ever dare to start a family (and this, in a culture that idolizes family, marriage, and parenthood above all else). 
Their parents and siblings have also gotten the message loud and clear, and many of them allow fear and blind faith to guide their reaction when a gay family member comes out. It is tragically common in Utah for an LGBTQ teen to be thrown out of their home when they come out, and even those who are allowed to stay often face the constant rejection inherent in a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mindset. 
Not all young people who commit suicide in Utah are LGBTQ, but a dramatically disproportionate percentage of them are (when compared to the percentage of LGBTQ individuals in the general population), and while suicide is complicated, it’s not the least bit unreasonable to suggest that the virulently anti-gay church that dominates Utah culture can be assigned a lion’s share of the blame."

Another Mama Dragon friend, Kimberly Anderson (Editor and Photographer for the Mama Dragon Story Project), wrote a very blunt op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune, which was published yesterday. She also fiercely challenged all Mama Dragons to get up and say something in their church congregations today, which is fast and testimony meeting, so there is an open pulpit to do so. I plan to act on that invitation. Here is her article:

We have seen a tremendous tragedy here in the state of Utah. Four bright young people, three of them teenagers, have died by suicide. All are known to have intersected both the LDS and the LGBT communities. These were shining lights with potential to illuminate the universe. They have been snubbed and silenced. More families will struggle for the rest of their lives asking what more could they have done. An entire support community will rally around them and ask, "What can we do?" The dear friends who knew and loved them will be forced to ask difficult questions.  
The time for talk is over. The time for action is here. Individuals will react in various ways, but hopefully their reactions will result in awareness, visibility, outreach, community-building and unconditional love for their queer children and extended LGBTQIA community.
I condemn in the strongest possible language the environment and culture that is leading to self-loathing, self-hate guilt and shame. The culture that these children are saturated in has led tragically to more than just the suicides this week. The history of Utah and the legacy of the LDS Church is splattered with the blood of dead queer youth and adult members. 
I have reached out to my ward bishop twice in the past two days. My repeated pleas to find out what my ward and stake in Riverton are doing are met with predictable testimony bearing of the Plan of Salvation and an incredible vacuum of silence. Small, cautious steps on the local level are being taken. At least one stake in Lehi is taking an incredibly proactive role in educating their congregations, an effort led by the stake president and bishops. Information is being shared with them through an incredible woman who is a silent force from the membership of the Mama Dragons. The absence of a church-wide program of outreach and education is reprehensible. 
I personally know three incredible women, each a Mama Dragon, who have lost sons to death by suicide. Each is tragic. Each is preventable. All are surrounded by a culture of intolerance and exclusion from the LDS Church. Platitudes, lip-service and meaningless testimony sharing by the highest levels of LDS Church leadership must stop. Announcing a hollow love for all yet condemning these beautiful children to a life of hopelessness and pain must end now. Both are done in the same breath. Renouncing all past teachings that do not align with current medical and mental health standards and practices needs to happen immediately. Resources that have not been devoted to the queer community must be released. Materials to reach out and extend a hand of love and inclusion must be created. 
We have seen honorable and real outreach to other communities that are marginalized here in Utah and around the world. It is time to look inwardly honestly and without fear. The corporation that has created an environment where individuals seek the comfort of death over the sting of life needs to change. Attitudes of love and acceptance must replace bigotry, hate and a false persecution complex. Hearts of parents, congregations and leaders need be touched. Attitudes must be changed and lives must be saved. 
Anything less is an admission of guilt. 

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