I will quote at length this story, which most readers should find interesting. (Note to readers, the link goes to a gay website, so be forewarned.)
A Utah suicide researcher says the friction between LGBT sexuality and religion in Utah may not be quite the driving factor behind youth suicide as many people believe.
Despite a general perception that many of Utah’s youth suicides arise from intolerance toward LGBT people promulgated (though not necessarily intentionally) by teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state’s suicide prevention research coordinator says that may not be the case.
“There’s no data to show that, period,” says Michael Staley, who works in the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner and is the first person who would know, since he leads an effort to collect, compile and analyze suicide information from around the state. He conducts that research at the behest of the Utah Legislature. “We are working to get that data,” he says.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that LGBT youth die by suicide at double the rate of their non-LGBT peers, Staley says data specific to Utah so far doesn’t validate the sexuality-religion narrative. “The people who are driving that narrative are going to be disappointed,” Staley says, while at the same time recognizing that “theoretically, it makes sense.”
Given the state’s predominant Mormon faith and the church’s rigid, often equivocal stance on LGBT-related issues, it seems only intuitive that the stress thus induced for LGBT people would influence some toward suicide. Especially when an LGBT person’s family members, under certain interpretations or apprehensions of Mormon beliefs, exhibit “highly rejective” behavior, as a study from the Family Acceptance Project calls it.
So it’s little wonder that “Day one in this job, I started getting questions from the media and members of the general public about sexuality,” Staley says.
But his mandate from the Legislature is broader than that. He is examining all suicides.
“We’re building the most comprehensive database of information about suicide decedents around. That’s huge,” Staley says in an interview with QSaltLake Magazine. In fact, it’s the first undertaking of its kind in the country and, because of the organization of the state’s medical examiner’s office, it’s possible in Utah and only a handful of other states. Staley calls the effort “progressive” and “pioneering.”
Staley’s research involves gathering two kinds of information. The first is the findings in official documents: OME investigation records, medical and mental health records, criminal or court records, and the like.
The second kind makes up a “psychological autopsy,” and involves, among other things, talking to the people suicide victims leave behind: family and friends. “We’re getting real-time data about suicide that we’ve never gotten before,” Staley says.
But that real-time data, as well as other available information, doesn’t validate the narrative of the sexuality-religion-suicide nexus. “I will not ignore that narrative, of course … but I also think it’s a more complex story than just religion and sexuality,” he says.
If there is a misperception about that, it begins with another. During a presentation to the LGBTQ Affirmative Therapists Guild of Utah on Nov. 15, Staley asked guild members what proportion of Utah suicides they thought were made up of youth (LGBT or not) age 10–17. “Most people would say 40–60 percent, and people assume that all these people are LGBT,” he said. But the real numbers may be far lower. Data from the OME shows that suicides of youth age 10–17 make up about 6 percent of suicides per year in Utah.
Staley presented information from the CDC that illustrated one of his obstacles: “If you told me to do a [suicide] study of LGBT people, I have no idea who those people are.”
The CDC in Atlanta reviewed investigations for 150 youth suicides in Utah. Last year, it reported its findings. Sexual orientation could be determined by actual or even circumstantial evidence for 40 of those individuals. Of those, only six — or 4 percent of the total 150 — could be identified as non-heterosexual; seventy-three percent could not be confidently identified one way or the other.
As I have written in the past in this post, the claims of teen suicide being caused by the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are exaggerated beyond any sense of reality. Of course every suicide is a tragedy, but it is also a tragedy to stand over peoples’ graves for political purposes. The science of depression and suicide clearly shows that people, including teens with same-sex attraction, do not kill themselves for one simple reason (such as the Church’s policy on this issue). And now we have more information that the data in Utah simply does not fit the narrative of the critics of the Church.
By the way, Michael Staley, the Utah researcher quoted above, says he is gay, so you can’t pull the homophobe card on the poor guy.
Can we please get back to studying the real reasons people commit suicide? Thank you.