17 February 2012

Suicide Prevention Secrecy

The Dumb Dora Award for
Suicide Prevention Secrecy Goes to
The Trevor Project and David McFarland


Just when I think professional Gay spokespeople can’t get any more squirrelly than they already are, along comes an Advocate op-ed like this:

We all recognize the benefit from showcasing the health crisis of disproportionate rates of suicide and incidences of bullying that affect LGBT young people. The highest levels of government are now paying attention, and there is a movement in this country to change our culture and improve environments for all youth. Without knowing it, however, this tactic has also increased suicide risk . . .

Say what?

Communicating about this crisis is complicated because the reasons a person attempts suicide are also complicated. Even talking about specific suicides online and in the media can encourage more deaths . . .

Instant replay, with emphasis: Say what???!!

When we draw direct lines from sexual orientation or bullying to suicide, it can influence someone who is at risk to assume that taking your own life is what you’re supposed to do next if you are LGBT or bullied. This may not seem rational, but attempting to take your own life is an irrational act.

Wanna know what’s really irrational? This dude’s airhead logic! He must think Gay teenagers are dumber than doorknobs!

Another factor that increases risk is suicide contagion: The link between media reports and a person’s decision to attempt suicide. In other words, the more a story of a particular victim is out there, the more likely one or more people who are at risk will also attempt suicide.

So-called suicide contagion, the notion that suicide risk gets passed around like flu germs, is junk science at its wackiest! Many sociologists seem to treat it as fact, but there’s no proof that such a thing exists. A 2001 American Journal of Epidemiology study (Mercy, et alia) found “no evidence that exposure to the suicidal behavior of others is a risk factor for nearly lethal suicide attempts . . . on the contrary . . . exposure to accounts of suicidal behavior in the media . . . were associated with a lower risk of nearly lethal suicide attempts.” Also, in a 1999 American Psychological Society monograph titled “Clustering And Contagion of Suicide”, Dr. Thomas E. Joiner, Jr, noted: “Contagion has (neither) been conceptually well-developed nor empirically well-supported as an explanation for suicide clusters.” In other words, it’s a half-baked theory!

(A) recent tragedy in Ottawa appears to have occurred as a combination of compromised psychological well-being influenced by factors of contagion . . .

Whoa now! Isn’t it unprofessional to speculate about patients whose case histories you aren’t privy to? McFarland isn’t even a licensed psychologist.

The op-ed lost much of its fevered cry-wolf tone toward the end; it called for legislation that would facilitate anti-bullying and suicide prevention programs. A perfectly reasonable thing to call for! On the whole, though, it was a grossly misguided plea to cut off public discussion of Gay teen suicide lest it become . . . what? A popular pastime? The next hot trend? Looks like the ancient art of cock-and-bull storytelling is still thriving. The premise that teenagers regard taking their own lives in the same way they regard a music or clothing fad is about as far-fetched as it gets!

Would you believe the author of this myth-mongering opinion piece is directly involved in suicide prevention? David McFarland serves as interim Executive Director of The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention group targeted specifically at LGBT youth. The organization was founded in 1998 by a screenwriter, a director, and a producer (its name comes from Trevor, their Academy Award winning short film about a suicidal Gay boy). None of these folks came from a mental health care background; that may explain why they’d let their CEO pen a factually-challenged editorial like this one.

Let’s hear from a few more folks who do have mental health care credentials. Yellow Ribbon of San Diego is one of many suicide prevention programs aimed at youth. Their online FAQ page reveals how uninformed and downright dangerous McFarland’s warning is:

Talking about suicide does not cause suicide! Not talking about it isolates the student and makes (him/her) feel there is something wrong with only him/her. This makes the student unwilling and unable to ask for help . . . prevention does not equal glorification. Just as the DARE Program talks about drugs . . . in order to prevent drug use, (our program) helps prevent suicide by creating awareness of the scope of the problem of teen suicide . . . and how to ask for help.

Yellow Ribbon’s advice is echoed by the National Center for The Prevention of Youth Suicide. Listen also to the wisdom of Dr. Antoon Leenars and Suzanne Wenckstern, authors of the book Suicide Prevention In Schools (Hemisphere Publishing, 1991):

Adjusting to suicide is remarkably difficult. Freud distinguished between the positive and negative effects of trauma . . . forgetting, avoidance, phobia and inhibition were described by Freud as negative. These are common responses in many victims after a suicide (and) even in adults who are to guide youngsters, such as principals, psychologists, and so forth. A common response is to deny it: “Don’t talk about it! After all, talking about suicide causes suicide.” We firmly believe, as has been so well documented with Vietnam veterans, that this approach only exacerbates the trauma . . . people’s attitudes toward suicide . . . need to be addressed.

Finally, listen to Facebook subscriber Derek Williams, commenting all the way from Scotland (the University of Edinburgh, to be precise). He tells a truth the “suicide contagion” alarmists don’t want to hear:

Putting the suicide problem back in the closet, along with all the long suffering LGBT kids, is exactly what the heterosexist homophobes want! They want us all to just disappear, and if it's by our own hand, so much the better . . . kids who are accepted, loved, happy and “out” don't (commit) suicide. The wave of support that is now appearing from every corner, right up to the White House and the President of the United States, would absolutely never have happened but for (Fort Worth City Councilman) Joel Burns' outburst at (a) council meeting last year . . . he named kids as young as 13 years old who had hanged and shot themselves because of appalling mistreatment by other children . . . the imperative is not to invisi-fy these vulnerable, now deceased youngsters and make their sacrifice pointless! We have to work harder than ever to prevent all children, (not only) LGBT kids, from ever considering suicide as “an option”. Now is absolutely not the time to drop the baton . . .

“Drop the baton” is exactly what we’d do if we were foolish enough to throw a cloak of invisibility over teenage suicide victims. Fortunately, that won’t happen; the Gay teen mortality rate is a subject that millions of people are now concerned about. If the news media weren’t saying anything about anti-Gay bullying’s tragic consequences, and this suicide epidemic got no attention at all, wouldn’t David McFarland be complaining? I hope he’d care enough to complain!

Thank God we’re finally having a national conversation about the persecution of Gay kids! Lord knows, it’s a problem we should have been addressing decades ago. If it had been in the news 35 years ago; if I’d seen the devastation teen suicide brings to friends and family; if I had been made to understand that somebody in the world cared about teenagers like me, I probably wouldn’t have attempted suicide myself. I daresay The Trevor Project’s profile has been raised by all this publicity; they should be capitalizing on heightened public consciousness instead of trying to reinforce wrongheaded taboos.

I’ve used the word “pathetic” so often to describe this generation of Gay activists, it’s become a cliché! Are we so far removed from the AIDS epidemic that we’ve forgotten Silence = Death? Don’t trust anybody who wants to maintain secrecy around a serious social problem! There’s no such thing as a topic too sensitive to discuss. Discussion is the only thing that can lead to solutions! If Mr. McFarland believes otherwise, he isn’t fit to be executive director of The Trevor Project. He should submit his resignation, and do it, like, yesterday! And if TP retains him, then everybody who’s given financial support to that organization should think twice before doing so again.

I just learned that he has not been retained. Former West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land has taken over as CEO of The Trevor Project. Let's hope all the Chicken Little screeching about "suicide contagion" left the building when David McFarland did!

Next: The Dumb Dora Award for Ditzy Doodling On A Newsblog!