Knowing the stats, finding help

Despite the perception, suicide rate is usually down during the holidays. But the statistics are still alarming

One of the biggest myths about suicide apparently is that people are more likely to kill themselves during the Christmas holidays. That’s what I had always thought. But now I know I was misinformed about that and much more related to suicide.

It turns out the month of December actually has the lowest number of suicides during the year, and spring and fall months have the highest incidence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is speculated that people who might be suicidal think less about killing themselves during the holidays because increased social activity distracts them from their thoughts.

The federal agency recently released the results of its study of suicidal thoughts and behavior in adults for the years 2008-09. The report, which reveals that someone kills him or herself every 15 minutes in the U.S., provides some interesting statistics about suicidal thought. It is the first report to present such data state by state.

One of the more interesting findings of the study is that suicidal thought and behavior vary widely from state to state. About 2.2 million adults — representing 1 percent of the nation’s adult population — acknowledged making plans in the study year to commit suicide, ranging from 0.01 percent of that number living in Georgia to 2.8 percent in Rhode Island.

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

About 1 million adults reported attempting suicide, ranging from 0.01 percent in Delaware and Georgia to 1.5 percent in Rhode Island.

The report’s researchers concluded that adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to think about suicide than those in the Northeast and South. Adults in the Midwest were more likely to make plans to commit suicide than those in the South, but suicide attempts did not vary by the four regions.

The variance among the states’ statistics is peculiar, but suicide statistics in general seem to be perplexing. As in the case of loved ones who are often left wondering why victims killed themselves, researchers must try to make sense of the data the victims’ deaths leave behind.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that four men commit suicide for every woman who kills herself, as was reflected in the 2008 statistics when 28,450 men succeeded in killing themselves compared to 7,585 women.

Yet women reportedly attempt suicide three times as often as men.

By age, suicide is the sixth leading cause of death for children 5-to-14 years old, and it is the third leading cause of death for people 15-to-24 years old. Rates of suicide among adult men rise with advancing age, and men 65 and older are seven times more likely than women to commit suicide.
Women are most likely to commit suicide between the ages of 45 and 54, and then again after age 75.

By ethnic groups and race, the highest rates are seen among Native Americans, Alaskan-Americans and Anglos. The lowest rates are seen among Latinos and African-Americans who commit suicide at rates of less than half of what is seen in the other groups.

People diagnosed with AIDS are 20 times more likely to commit suicide, according to the foundation.

Among LGBT people the reports of suicide attempts are significantly higher in comparison to straight people in similar socio-economic and age groups, according to the report “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations.” The report published by the 2011 Movement Advancement Project notes that statistical information about suicides among LGBT people is scarce.

Indeed, most of the statistics about suicidal behavior and suicide seem to create more questions than they facilitate understanding, but researchers have identified certain constants.

People who kill themselves are most likely to use a firearm in the process; their deaths are likely to occur after they have made an average of 11 previous suicide attempts; they might suffer from major depression; they may abuse alcohol and other drugs, and they could be victims of bullying, physical abuse or sexual abuse.

There are preventive measures that can be taken if someone is in crisis and at risk of suicide, and it is a good idea to be prepared for such an event. The strongest indicator of a suicide risk is a previous attempt or ongoing expressions of intense distress and despair. Those people must never be left alone, and they should immediately be afforded mental health treatment.

Psychotherapy has helped people who are at risk of suicide survive, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment can succeed in saving lives that seemed destined for destruction.

And even though it turns out the holidays are not a time when people are most at risk for planning or attempting suicide, the myth has created an opportunity to raise awareness about a preventable tragedy for both the potential victims and their loved ones.

After all, there often are no second chances when it comes to a risk of suicide.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com or at http://facebook.com/TheRareReporter.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Putting our children at risk

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Child sexual abuse a concern for everyone, especially LGBT parents

Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children. So it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is, there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and is seriously underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse.

Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies, even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families, and aware of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old, married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied, this week in an NBC interview, engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him.

His admissions shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected — Sandusky is most likely a pedophile that has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true, the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combating child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948.

In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then, awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching, who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child, who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes. The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality.

Also, victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them.

But the real tragedy — if the allegations are true — will be the lasting impact upon the victims.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.        

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The dangers of conversion therapy

Southern Poverty Law Center, Truth Wins Out join forces to shine a light into the darkness of those who try to change others’ orientation

Imagine being told your lifetime of thoughts and feelings were unacceptable, and that what you think and feel in the future would need to be remolded to conform to what others consider acceptable.

That’s the reality of conversion therapy, an unscientific methodology rooted in conservative Christian philosophy that is designed to reorient homosexuality to heterosexuality.

Conversion therapy is condemned by all major medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling groups. Yet fundamentalist religious leaders advocate its widespread practice to “cure” homosexuality. They recommend this treatment for both adults and for gay and lesbian teenagers, who are often forced into the therapy against their will.

Opposition to conversion therapy is strong in the LGBT community, and it gained even more momentum recently when the Southern Poverty Law

Center and Truth Wins Out joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to counter proponents of the controversial therapy.

David-Webb

David Webb - The Rare Reporter

The prestigious civil rights group — SPLC — and the LGBT rights organization — TWO — scheduled a series of community meetings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for former patients of the therapy to share their stories. One of the campaign’s goals is to seek help from community activists and elected leaders in monitoring and evaluating local conversion therapy programs.

For most people, the notion of conversion therapy achieving any measure of success would probably be laughable if it were not so destructive to those who are exposed to it. Critics of the therapy warn that individuals who undergo it often suffer anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts — in addition to retaining their sexual orientation.

The radical therapy is reminiscent of unscrupulous scientific experiments from previous decades that horrified the world when they came to light. In those events groups of scientists in the U.S. and other countries carried out hideous psychological and medical experiments using as their subjects prisoners, orphans, mental patients, minorities and other powerless people.

Through my work as a journalist I have met several individuals over the years that underwent conversion therapy. Without exception, all reported the therapy caused them more anguish than they felt before receiving it.

One person — who was raised by a domineering, Bible-obsessed mother — was sent from his East Coast home when he was in his 20s to a conversion therapy treatment program in, of all places, San Francisco, the gay capital of the U.S. It’s not difficult to figure out what happened there.

The group of like-minded individuals in the program reportedly had the time of their life when the lights went out at night, and at one point they went over the wall to see the sights of Baghdad on the Bay.

Again, the lack of logic is humorous, but the therapy left the young man and his family, which had expected him to return home “cured,” more troubled than ever.

In subsequent years he engaged in the abuse of alcohol and illegal substances, promiscuity and criminal activity.

His mother drifted into a state of denial and, even though her son contracted the HIV virus, she maintained that he did not engage in sex with other men.

The last I heard, the man was still allowing his mother to run his life, which she has dedicated to ensuring would not include the company of a male partner.

In another case, a man in his 30s sought help from a counselor whose facility was located on the campus of a large mainstream church. Placing his trust in the counselor — in part because he supposedly was a straight, married man — the patient participated in a bizarre treatment program that involved the patient removing his clothes during the sessions. The “treatment” eventually progressed to the counselor instructing the patient to perform oral sex upon him.

Eventually, the patient came to his senses, reported the counselor to law enforcement officials and filed a lawsuit against him. The patient suffered severe psychological problems as a result of the contact with the counselor, but he recovered through the help of a traditional counselor who helped him accept his sexual orientation.

The last time I heard from the patient he was attempting to get on with his life as a gay man and had met someone with whom he was trying to bond.

The files of Truth Wins Out are full of stories of unscrupulous conversion therapists who masquerade as professional counselors, when in fact they are what the organization’s founder, Wayne Besen, refers to as “quacks.”

Besen has also cornered advocates of conversion therapy who claim to be “ex-gay” in gay bars and exposed others as frauds because they still engage in homosexual activity.

The influence of the powerful Southern Poverty Law Center — which is best known for its work in waging successful legal fights against violent white supremacist groups — will likely help Besen spread his message to an audience that he might not have otherwise reached. The nonprofit group’s Teaching Tolerance project has received high praise for its outreach.

As regards religious leaders who recommend conversion therapy, they are doing neither the individuals nor their families any favors. Coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation — for both gay men and lesbians and their family members — is challenging enough without the interference of religious leaders who apparently are less concerned with the welfare of the individual than they are in demanding observance of antiquated religious laws.

For gays or lesbians attempting to deny their sexual orientation, it might be useful to learn a lesson from the legions of people who have already struggled with the same issue and finally came to realize that a person’s basic nature cannot be transformed.                                              •

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas