If you knew that a certain segment of Americans had a suicide rate of 41% compared to the general public’s rate of 4.6% you might be shocked. It might be further horrifying to know that many represented in that high rate of suicide were children. And of those children, most had been bullied, isolated, and even rejected and ridiculed by their own families.
Would you think something must be done to right this terrible wrong, if you knew that many of those were children who had no one to talk to, no place to turn, no safe point in their schools and no counselor to help re-direct their suicidal ideation?
This is the plight of transgender teens and young adults in America today.
The San Francisco-based Family Acceptance Project’s research has demonstrated that “parental acceptance, and even neutrality, with regard to a child’s sexual orientation can reduce the attempted suicide rate.” Research has clearly demonstrated those who are harassed, bullied, victimized, discriminated against or rejected by family and friends are more likely to attempt suicide. Some doctors and mental health experts agree that prevention begins with acceptance and kindness, especially by parents.
But community acceptance is also needed. Our differences are just differences. They are not a reason for isolation, rejection, bulling, torturing, harassing and victimizing a person. Our differences ask for understanding and compassion.
In 2000, Family Health Centers of San Diego took a bold step and established a Transgender Clinic. The FHCSD medical staff recognized that anxiety and depression experienced by transgender people were frequently the causes of chronically high stress levels linked to being part of a stigmatized minority. Today, this specialized clinic provides a safe and understanding place for high quality medical care. For 17 years, the clinic has quietly served the medical needs of this population.
Studies now suggest pediatricians should talk about gender issues with kids and parents during doctor visits, and most medical groups are now asking adults questions on sexual orientation and practices. These questions are designed to gather information needed to treat the whole person.
Soon, FHCSD will launch a training initiative to elevate the competence level among a group of our mental health staff to better care for the unique needs of this special population. The mental health providers serve a critical role in the establishment of trust and acceptance.
In 2016, FHCSD began planning the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) certification journey. The HEI is the national LGBTQ benchmarking tool that evaluates health care facilities’ policies and practices relative to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees. The HEI 2016 has already evaluated over 2,000 health care facilities nationwide.
The FHCSD Mission Statement speaks to “providing care to everyone.” This external validation by HEI will ensure that the care we provide is culturally sensitive, welcoming, safe and the best that can be given to the transgender population.
Ann Haas, a senior consultant to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says, “It’s getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go.” In our culture, we are often encouraged to “do what’s right.” Well, FHCSD intends to do what’s right to help turnaround a suicide rate of 41%. The provision of culturally competent medical care and mental health services, an HEI certification and staff training sufficient to send a clear message that our environment is safe and welcoming is a darn good start.
That’s how far we are prepared to go to turn a wrong into a right.
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