The federal government must develop suicide prevention strategies that target the gay and lesbian community, a new report has recommended.

The Senate’s Community Affairs Reference Committee’s report into suicide in Australia recommends attention be paid to the developing of target programs, prevention strategies and policies for the GLBTI community, and that GLBTI people be recognised as a higher risk group in regards to suicide for official purposes.

Committee chair Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told Sydney Star Observer it was shocking to hear the high rate of suicide in the GLBTI community.

“We were told, for example, that the attempted suicide rate among youth who identified as having a same sex attraction was between 3.5 and 14 times higher than their heterosexual peers, while attempted suicides among transgender people were between 16 and 47 percent higher,” Siewert said.

“The inquiry also heard about inconsistencies between the states in regards to the reporting and coronial investigation of suicides.

“The unknown nature of some peoples circumstances means that the exact number of LGBTI people taking their own lives is hard to identify.

“The obvious over-representation in the LGBTI community is a sign that targeted prevention, assistance and awareness programs are needed”.

The committee heard evidence from groups and individuals including the Gay & Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW, the National LGBT Health Alliance, the GLBTI Retirement Association, Lesbian & Gay Solidarity, and Adelaide gerontologist Dr Jo Harrison.

“People often fail to consider the risks of social isolation and a lack of support networks for elderly LGBTI people,” Siewert said.

“Submissions to the inquiry indicated people may be less likely to seek out services and assistance when they have grown up in an environment where they hid their sexual orientation.

“It is essential that people working in front line services, such as police, medical and health care staff, and teachers are better trained and equipped to identify people who may be at risk from suicide and be aware of the assistance and options available to them.”

Siewert said the Greens would like to see the appointment of a mental health minister, as is the case in Western Australia, and see mental health services better integrated with physical health services.

D. Jo Harrison said the recommendation must now be implemented.

“GLBTI older people are more likely than others in the same age cohort to experience isolation and lack of support networks, factors which can lead to increased anxiety and depression,” she said.

“Policies and targeted programs are needed which acknowledge the connection between the sparse recognition of GLBTI older people in aged care initiatives to date and the risk of negative mental health outcomes.”

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