Trigger Warning: Holistic Public Policy Can Save Lives From Suicide

At the age of 17, I lost my older brother, David, to suicide. As a gay man in his early 20s, David struggled with mental health conditions and social isolation. His loss affected my family, his friends, and me forever. It was then that I decided to dedicate my life to suicide prevention.

His loss, and the loss of so many others, makes the 2020 data showing that the suicide rate in the United States has increased by 1.4 percent even more upsetting. Michigan’s suicide rate has increased by over 33 percent since 1999, and among young people ages 10 to 24, the rate has climbed by 56 percent since 2007, making it the second leading cause of death for that age group.

Despite these sobering statistics, I’m confident that we can prevent suicide.

In the past couple of years, Michigan has taken great steps toward suicide prevention and mental health promotion. In a past legislative session, Senate Bill 228 established the State Suicide Prevention Commission, and House Bill 4051 established a statewide mental health crisis line. The passage of each of these bills highlights our legislators’ commitment to saving lives – but there is more we can do.

We need a holistic set of public policies that works to promote well-being and ensure safety across all contexts in which our young people live, learn, and play.

For example, in 2019 Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. introduced Senate Bill 532 to mandate suicide prevention instruction for K-12 students and professional development training for public school teachers and staff. As of the start of 2020, Michigan was one of only 15 states that encourages such training but does not require it. In comparison, 18 states mandate suicide prevention training but do not specify if it must be annual. Whereas 13 states have mandated annual suicide prevention training for school personnel.

In addition to training, 22 states also mandate comprehensive school policies on implementing suicide prevention education, responding to students in crisis, and handling suicide deaths. Again, Michigan has no such mandated policies.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in partnership with The Trevor Project, the American School Counselor Association, and the National Association of School Psychologists has developed a Model School District Policy on suicide prevention. The document outlines policies and best practices that school districts can follow to protect the health and safety of all students.

Outside of the school, numerous other policies can help save young lives. For example, while federally mandated, Michigan is among a staggering number of states that currently have no laws guaranteeing mental health parity — the assurance that insurance companies will cover mental health care in the same way they cover physical health care.

In addition, 20 states now have laws banning conversion therapy – the practice of counseling or psychotherapy that attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The negative effects of such practices are well documented and include increased suicide risk, decreased self-esteem and well-being, disrupted healthy identity development, and increased social isolation. As it stands, Michigan only partially bans conversion therapy for minors, along with four other states. In total, 20 states ban the practice for minors outright, 3 are still settling the issue in court, and 22 states have no policy or mandate regarding the practice.

As a researcher, advocate, and brother, I know we need policies that are proactive rather than reactive, address multiple contexts, and dismantle the stigma around suicide. We can and must do more to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

Delaware Legislature Sends Anti-“Conversion Therapy” Bill to Gov. Carney’s Desk

Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, hailed the Delaware General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill (SB) 65, legislation protecting LGBTQ youth in the state from the dangerous and discredited practice known as “conversion therapy.”

The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Harris McDowell and State Representative Debra Heffernan, and Governor John Carney is expected to sign it into law. Once signed, Delaware will join 13 other states and Washington, D.C. with laws or regulations protecting LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice.

“For young people across Delaware, this legislation provides vital and potentially lifesaving protections from the damaging, dangerous and discredited practice known as ‘conversion therapy,’” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride, a Delawarean. “While Delaware has made historic progress on LGBTQ equality, we can and must do more to protect LGBTQ youth from rejection, stigma, and harm. SB 65 is a critical and significant step in that direction. We thank the Delaware General Assembly for their support of this vital legislation and we look forward to Governor Carney signing it into law.”

“We thank those members of the General Assembly who voted to protect LGBTQ children against the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy, and especially prime sponsors Senator Harris McDowell and Representative Debra Heffernan and their legislative aides for their leadership,” said Equality Delaware’s Mark Purpura. “We look forward to Governor Carney signing the bill into law promptly.  We are also thankful to have had the opportunity to work together again with the HumanRights Campaign on this important issue. We need to keep the momentum going across the country to end this despicable practice once and for all.”

There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. To the contrary, research has clearly shown that these practices pose devastating health risks for LGBTQ young people such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior. The harmful practice is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.

Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, and Hawaii all have laws or regulations protecting youth from this abusive practice. A growing number of municipalities have also enacted similar protections, including cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York, Arizona, and Wisconsin. In addition, lawmakers in New Hampshire recently passed similar legislation which currently awaits the governor’s signature.

According to a recent report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ minors in states without protections will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional if state lawmakers fail to act.

HRC has partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and state equality groups across the nation to pass state legislation ending conversion therapy. More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found here.

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