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Attendees shared their struggles during the event. Some made strong connections with students they had never met before. Photo by Manuel Carranza.

Casting light on suicide prevention in the LGBTQIA+ community

What started as a PowerPoint presentation became a candid discussion of experiences with mental health, and the sometimes blatant discrepancies in services available to those seeking help.

This is part of “’Coming Out’ of the Darkness,” an event hosted by the Mosaic and Interfaith centers focused on suicide prevention in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Students and staff members seated in a semi-circle listened to a presentation by Dorian Holliday from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Holliday spoke generally about suicide statistics as well as prevalent risk factors before focusing specifically on how LGBTQIA+ people are affected by suicide and mental health issues.

After the presentation, a discussion was facilitated by Holliday and Carlos Turcios from the Mosaic Center.

In Maryland, suicide is the leading cause of death for adolescents aged 10-14, and the third leading cause of death for people aged 15-34. Suicide is also the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.

The rates of suicide among LGBTQIA+ youth, however, are 3 – 4 times higher than other young adults. The rate for transgender youth is 8-10 times higher. In the United States between 5.2 million and 9.5 million people identify as LGBTQIA+.

Holliday emphasized that many suicides go unreported, especially in the LGBTQIA+ community. Holliday cited the need for more comprehensive targeted research to fully understand the impacts of suicide on underserved populations.

LGBTQIA+ people are often at risk for experiencing discrimination, holding minority status or facing rejection from their families. These stressful life experiences can exacerbate existing mental health struggles and ostracize people from resources that enable them to seek treatment.

Financial issues presented the most common barrier to treatment for discussion participants. Many cited the high fees charged by private therapists and the struggle to find providers covered by their insurance. Participants called for more awareness of financial struggles when educating students and staff about mental health and designing resources.

Other barriers discussed included cultural ignorance, lack of support from family and the negative stigma that exists around seeking treatment.

Those barriers to treatment motivated Amani Johnson, a doctoral intern at the counseling center, to attend the event. She noted how critical it is to show “support for marginalized and underrepresented communities.”

Several other staff members from the Counseling Center were present to offer immediate support and to remind students of the various mental health services available on campus. Students can make appointments to meet with a counselor one-on-one or even have a mental health screening over the phone.

There is also a mind spa located in the Counseling Center. Filled with soothing amenities, like a massage chair and meditation space, the mind spa is designed to help students relax and practice self-care. Despite the difficulties in mental health care, Holliday emphasized that through education we can “create a culture that is smart about suicide prevention.”