Almost every day we are reminded of the need to counter stigma and enhance access to mental health, suicide prevention and crisis response services for people having difficulty coping with psychological and emotional problems.

Last month, it was the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the celebration of LGBTQ+ PRIDE, which brought significant focus on the challenges in accessing and receiving care and treatment by individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex and queer.

Last week, it was the heartbreaking news of yet another NYPD officer taking his life as well as several stories highlighting how suicide touches people of every age, race, sexual identity and culture—from the famous to people from every walk of life.

This is nothing new.  As far back as 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Samaritans was collaborating with and providing education and training to the LGBTQ community, partnering with the Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, GMHC, Hetrick Martin and many others.

We learned a lot from the dedicated people working on the front lines of their respective communities, as we would from working with those devoted to preventing suicide in the Hispanic community; the Asian community; among victims of bullying, violence and sexual assault; immigrants; the homeless; veterans; and countless others.

Most of what Samaritans has learned in our over 35 years of providing suicide prevention and crisis response education and support services to close to 50,000 lay and professional caregivers, health providers, hotline staff and first responders bears repeating here:

  1. Nobody is one thing. People are complex, unique and multi-dimensional and do not fit in pre-determined categories. An individual having trouble coping with psychological problems might identify as “lesbian,” but she may also be Latina, have served in the military or have a family history of domestic violence. She could also be struggling with substance abuse or unemployment. This individual might be recently divorced or have abandonment issues. Finally, she could be completely unaware of her genetic predisposition towards depression. Too often we pick and choose one aspect of a person’s situation to focus on, instead of considering the multiplicity of factors that may be contributing to their current state.

“We murder when we dissect,” said Wordsworth, reminding us of the dangers of labeling people, which is at the heart of stigma.

  1. People in distress will seek help in a way they are comfortable; you cannot dictate what services they will use. They frequently avoid the forms of help that they are directed to, especially those that are “official” or government-run. Research suggests the majority of referrals given are never utilized by the people that receive them.
  1. It does take a village. The more points of access, the more variation in the modalities and types of programs and services available, the more likely people who are resistant to seeking help will be to consider trying something that might work for them.  The highly successful US Air Force suicide prevention program points to the need for “Caring Community,” collaboration and integration of a cross-section of community, non-profit, clinical, humanistic, spiritual and government programs working together to strengthen the safety net.

Clearly, there are no simple answers to reducing self-harming and suicidal behavior amongst individuals in the LGBTQ community or any high-risk population, for that matter.  Samaritans experience tells us that the more diversified the types of support that are available and the more varied the groups and organizations that provide that care and support, the more effective we will be in reaching people where they are. This is of great importance because SAMHSA tells us that as many as 60% of the people who experience psychological disorders never receive care.

So Samaritans encourages politicians, government agencies, non-profits and faith-based institutions to break down the silos.  Build community collaborations, partnerships and collective actions.  Enhance access to and promotion of diverse resources.  Develop and promote broad-based anti-stigma campaigns.  Strengthen NYC’s safety net for those in need.  Because everybody deserves a helping hand!