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Save 1.800.Suicide

Imagine a troubled gay teenager contemplating suicide, dialing a suicide prevention line, and getting James Dobson on the other end. It could happen. Via a government agency, it looks like the Bush administration could trying to starve a suicide prevention line of funding in order to make that happen. Or it might just be payback.

This is the kind of thing that won’t register on most people’s radar, but it’s important and once it was brought to my attention I wanted to do everything I could to let others know about it to. The suicide prevention program 1-800-Suicide is in trouble. It’s in danger of being shut off, or falling into the hands of the federal government.To put it another way, and underscore the importance, it’s in danger of falling into the hands of the George W. Bush administration. That’s something that should concern a lot of people, especially the gay community, because there are some pretty serious — even deadly— implications for LGBT youth. But first, sere’s the vital info:

1-800-SUICIDE is in danger of being shut off or worse falling into the hands of the Federal Government. With teenage suicide being the 3rd leading cause of death between 18 to 24 year olds – our government should not be duplicating prevention efforts but helping fund the many local organizations and non-profits with proven track records on prevention. In addition our government should not be in the business having access to this private and sensitive information!

Despite the fact that almost 2 million callers have reached help and hope over the last 8 years, and a government funded evaluation stating the benefits of 1-800-SUICIDE, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), a division of Health & Human Services, has decided to create their own government run system where they would have direct access to confidential data on individuals in crisis.

To protect the callers to suicide crisis hotlines the management of 1-800-SUICIDE has refused to turn over the control of the National Hopeline Network to the SAMHSA. As a result it is in danger of being completely shut off to the almost 2,000 individuals in crisis who reach out daily because our government has not only ended all funding but also continues to owe $266,000 in overdue bills to the Hopeline from 2 years ago. (This is not new funds – but money that was already allocated!).


The Bush administration ignoring human services and running up bills is nothing new, but there’s more to this story than meets the eye, and the outcome could be detrimental to LGBT youth in our communities.

To understand the implications, you have to go back to February of last year, when SAMHSA — under Bush-appointed leadership — demanded the removal of all LGBT references from a federally funded suicide prevention conference in California. Not just that, but administration also suggested a session on “faith-based” suicide prevention, and threatened the conference’s funding.

At issue is a conference on suicide prevention to be held Feb. 28 in Portland, Ore., and organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center of Newton, Mass., a SAMHSA contractor. On the program is a talk that, until recently, was titled “Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals.”

Everyone seems to agree the topic is important. Studies have found that the suicide risk among people in these groups is two to three times higher than the average risk.

So it came as a surprise to Ron Bloodworth — a former coordinator of youth suicide prevention for Oregon and one of three specialists leading the session — when word came down from SAMHSA project manager Brenda Bruun that they should omit the four words that described, precisely, what the session was about.

… The title rewrite was one of several requested changes. Another was to add a session on faith-based suicide prevention, said [SAMHSA spokesman Mark] Weber, who said he believes the brouhaha is all a misunderstanding.

SAMHSA prefers the term “sexual orientation” simply because it is more “inclusive,” he said. And besides, he added, it was only a suggestion.

Asked how strong a suggestion, Weber replied: “Well, they do need to consider their funding source.”

Fortunately, the response from mental health professionals (and congressman Barney Frank) was overwhelming. that the administration backed down. But the NMHA response is a reminder of why keeping suicide prevention out of the hands of the Bush administration is important to LGBT people.

In 1998, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (of which SAMHSA is a branch) published, in their Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, Paul Gibson’s report on Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide which states:“

“Gay and lesbian youth belong to two groups at high risk of suicide: youth and homosexuals…gay youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people.” ”

Numerous reports and studies completed since then agree (including the US Center for Disease Control-funded Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveys in 1999, 2001 and 2003) that Gibson’s numbers are correct, if not under-estimated. Suicide and the myriad of issues that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth face must be addressed head-on with frank and open language to reduce shame and stigma surrounding sexual orientation and identity.

The FAQ at Save1800Suicide.Org says that the only response they’ve gotten from SAMHSA is to donate circular saw reviews “Donate 1-800-Suicide to the Federal Government.” That essentially means give it to the Bush administration, with all the information collected about the 2 million people who have called and gotten help, and let them run it.

Do I need to mention the Bush administration’s record on gay & lesbian issues? Probably not, but I do feel the need to mention the administration’s office of faith-based initiatives, which I posted about earlier as being overrun with overrun with evangelicals and lacking in oversight. It’s to the point where it’s basically turned into a gravy train for Bush’s religious supporters to get federal dollars with which to proselytize and discriminate based on religious beliefs.

It doesn’t take much imagination, given all the above, to envision 1-800-Suicide being reborn under the Bush administration as a grant to a Bush-backer through the White House office of faith-based initiatives, to do suicide prevention. Given that, it doesn’t take much more imagination to envision, say, one of Pat Robertson’s outfits or part of James Dobson’s empire getting into the suicide prevention business.

Imagine what kind of help they might give to LGBT youth who call Dubya’s faith-based suicide prevention line.

What to stop that from happening? Here’s how.

  1. Tell the Government to keep their commitment to 1-800-SUICIDE and send the $266,000 that was already allocated.
  2. Help Fund 1.800.SUICIDE. We need to raise $266,000 for our bills with AT&T to keep the Suicide Prevention Hotline running privately. Once we pay off AT&T for our old phone agreement We have to pay roughly $30,000 per month for the next 6 months in order to come out of debt.
  3. Keep Suicide Prevention Private and Confidential Petition. Our Government should not duplicate the efforts of the Hopeline – but help with training of social works, education and awareness of the issues of mental health.
  4. E-mail your friends.


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  3. I’m curious as to why, in this administration’s mind, suicide prevention belongs in the hands of the federal government, if schools, social security, and all other social services don’t.

    I’m also wondering just when this administration is finally going to come out with a statement acknowledging that they actively hate the citizens of the United States.

  4. Pingback: Imagine a troubled gay teenager contemplating suicide…and getting James Dobson on the other end. » Wagalulu - Top 100 Feeds » » Imagine a troubled gay teenager contemplating suicide…and getting James Dobson on the other end.

  5. Two thoughts:

    Is personal information better protected in the hands of the government or in the hands of a non profit organization? I don’t see enhanced secuirty one way or the other.

    If LGBT teens are in such a perilous situation, with so many comtemplatiing suicide, I would suggest that perhaps something more than a phone number is in order. Maybe Mr. Dobson would have something to offer in this regard.

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  8. I am devastated by this news. I run a non-profit organization called isurvive, it is a community for adults who have suffered trauma as children. They have suffered physical, verbal, emotional, and/or sexual abuse.

    I refer survivors and new Members to this hotline on a daily basis. It has saved their lives…

    I can not see isurvive without this resource…

  9. Thanks for the great post. It is always helpful to hear what others have to say on the matter. I would like ot invite you to read my blog of a live journal of my personal story and hope it brings as much as your story brought to me. Thanks again.