11:12pm Thursday 05 December 2019

Higher suicide risk for Nebraska LGBT community surfaces in first study; being “out” is healthier

Nearly 50 percent of the respondents indicated that they had serious suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

The study, called the Midlands LGBT Needs Assessment Community Report, looked at physical, mental, social, and sexual health aspects of participants.

Conducted by researchers with the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative (MSHRC), the study provides a snapshot of the health and well-being of LGBT persons in Nebraska, a predominately rural state. It was headed by Christopher Fisher, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

Dr. Fisher was assisted by two University of Nebraska at Omaha faculty members – Jay Irwin, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, and Jason Coleman, Ph.D., MSPH, assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation – as well as several community-based organizations throughout Nebraska and western Iowa.

“We already know suicide attempts among LGBT youth are nearly three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts,” said Dr. Irwin, who is a mental health expert. “But having nearly 50 percent of respondents indicate serious thoughts of suicide is quite high, even in light of other studies of LGBT populations.”

Even more telling of the potential social stigma associated with being LGBT in Nebraska, Dr. Irwin said, is that serious thoughts of suicide were not limited to teens. “We found people who had seriously considered suicide in their 20s, again in their 40s, and then again in their 60s,” he said.

Although LGBT Nebraskans overall see themselves as healthy, the study also found that more than 26 percent of the 770 people surveyed smoked. That compares to an average of 20 percent of the overall population.

“Several studies have shown smoking rates to be higher among LGBT persons,” Dr. Fisher said. “LGBT Nebraskans are no different and actually may be somewhat higher than other states due to higher levels of social stigma.”

Issues like suicide, smoking, sexual health and even seeking health care were linked to social conditions that allow for LGBT to be “out” about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Dr. Fisher said.

“Almost across the board, we kept finding that persons who were more ‘out of the closet’ to family, friends, co-workers, and even casual acquaintances were more likely to be engaging in healthy behaviors,” he said.

The study is timely, Dr. Fisher said, since two leading national research organizations – the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Medicine – are calling for more research to better understand the conditions that impact the health of LGBT Americans.

“What little research has happened with LGBT populations has occurred predominately in the big cities and on the coasts,” Dr. Fisher said. “However, the issues facing LGBT in New York or Los Angeles are different than in the rural Midwest.

“Isolation, stigma, and lack of social outlets are experiences that continue to need to be addressed. We hope this report will give community organizations needed information to help improve the health and well-being of the people they serve.”

Other key study findings include:
• Almost 3 out of 4 participants considered their general health to be excellent or very good.
• Transgender individuals were more likely than others to report suicidal thoughts.
• Overall knowledge about HIV/AIDS was high.
• Policy issues of importance for the community varied with marriage equality topping the list, followed by the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), safe schools, and HIV/AIDS.

The report is available at the MSHRC website, www.unmc.edu/publichealth/mshrc. In addition, the UNMC College of Public Health will have copies of the report available at its booth at the Heartland Pride Festival on Saturday, June 25. The booth is located at 10th and Pacific streets.

The Heartland Pride Parade will take place from 11 a.m. to noon, while the Heartland Pride Festival will run from noon to midnight. For more information, go to http://www.heartlandpride.org/.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.

For more information, please contact :

Tom O’Connor, UNMC Public Relations, (402) 559-4690 (402) 650-7063
Vicky Cerino, UNMC Public Relations, (402) 559-5190

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