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Gay suicides should be counted, say campaigners

Gay suicides should be counted, say campaigners

Official figures for the number of suicides in Britain were released today but despite gay people being at greater risk of suicide, there were no statistics referring to sexuality in the report.

That’s something that needs to change, according to Britain’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organization Stonewall and other gay campaign groups.

High profile cases in the US and Britain have attracted attention to gay youth suicide. These include the death of British 15-year-old Dominic Crouch, a victim of anti-gay bullying, who jumped to his death from a six-storey building in 2010. Just 18 months later his father, Roger Crouch killed himself, just weeks after he was named Hero of the Year in the Stonewall Awards.

James Taylor of Stonewall told Gay Star News: ‘What we want to see is a greater recognition of these issues, including that suicide and self-harm do effect lesbian, gay and bisexual people disproportionately.’

While the British Office of National Statistics may not record the numbers, Stonewall points to other research which highlights ‘alarming statistics’ around gay, lesbian and bisexual people and mental health.

Mental health charity Mind reports gay and bi people are at higher risk than heterosexuals of suicidal feelings, self-harm, drug abuse and depression.

The issue has been highlighted in the last 12 months by higher level of media coverage of teen gay suicides, particularly in the US, sparking the It Gets Better video campaign and global headlines. But the problem has long existed, a survey by Stonewall for 2007 to 2008 showed that 16% of lesbian and bisexual women under the age of 20 had attempted to take their own life.

And in the current Department of Health consultation on suicide, officials accept that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are twice as likely as straights to attempt suicide.

Despite this the government does not collect figures about gay people and mental health on a national level.

Tim Franks, chief executive of PACE, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health charity told Gay Star News: ‘We are calling for a systematic national approach to monitoring and collecting data because the invisibility of our needs is the biggest hurdle to them being met.

‘What happens far too often is the easy cop out “oh the evidence is not there”.

‘I am not sure we are ever going to get 100% accurate data. We just may never know… A teenager who is gay [and commits suicide] may take that secret to the grave with him. So there are all kinds of difficulties with the data but that is not a reason to record nothing. At the moment there is no ability to capture data when we do know. It is better to have data you are not 100% confident in than nothing at all.’

The Stonewall and PACE demands for national data collection are also backed by an umbrella organization of gay groups working on health, called the National LGB&T Partnership.

A 2010 survey by PACE asked mental health authorities if they monitor sexual orientation but only 31% do, compared to 93% monitoring gender of patients and 89% surveying on race.

Even fewer – just 21% – record trans identity.

The study also showed only 13 out of 28 health authorities target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a priority and only seven out of 28 could name something specific they had done to prioritize gay people.

Taylor said Stonewall was working hard to improve things, working with 50 National Health Service organisations and providing information to hospitals.

He also highlights Stonewall’s own It Gets Better Today campaign to help depressed gay teens.

‘We still want to push It Gets Better,’ he told GSN. ‘We want to see every school take homophobic bullying seriously. We want to see a conversation starting that it is ok to talk about mental heath and your sexuality.’

Some progress may be made when the government publishes its new Suicide Prevention Strategy, expected within the next few months. Based on the consultation document, this is likely to include a commitment to better data collection on sexuality and ethnicity.

A Deparment of Health spokesperson said: 'Losing a loved one to suicide is a tragedy and we want to make sure that we are doing all we can to prevent suicides and give vulnerable people from all parts of society the support they desperately need.

'The government is taking strong action on suicide prevention. We have been listening to families who have been bereaved following a suicide, and have called upon experts in healthcare, criminal justice and transport to help us put together a new Suicide Prevention Strategy for England to help save lives, which will be published soon.

'We recognise there is a gap in the current statistics around sexual orientation, and the consultation included a commitment to try to address this gap.'