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Leah KeiserThe federal and provincial governments need to address a lack of financial and educational support for treating depression and preventing suicide within the LGBT community, according to Leah Keiser, executive director of UR Pride at the University of Regina.


Some studies estimate 25 to 30 per cent of all completed suicides are attributed to homophobia, and recent research suggests as high as 50 per cent of transgendered people attempt suicide.


“Health providers don’t always see it as a priority. It says something about our mental health system,” said Keiser. “Most (LGBT people) going through depression are coming to terms with their sexual identity, and the consequences of coming out.”


Those consequences can sometimes be alienation from friends, family and religious groups, said Mike White, a local psychologist. Bullying and violence, especially towards transgendered people, are not unheard of, he said.


White said people without access to these traditional sources of support can fall into serious depression, which in turn can lead to destructive habits such as substance abuse and suicide.


“When you have someone saying you’re sick, evil or deviant instead of supporting, you can grow up believing you’re a worthless human being. Your self-esteem is attacked from a very young age,” said White.


White, like Keiser, said current public health services are inadequate, citing a lack of support for individual counseling.


“The health region strongly promotes group therapy, and there’s a time and place for that, but it’s not for everyone. Provincial and federal government support is completely inadequate. Sometimes resources are stretched thin, of course, but not everyone can afford to pay (for private counseling),” he said.   


UR Pride offers a number of programs and services, such as talks to classrooms, professional groups and employers, and a peer support program. The organization also advocates for supportive provincial legislation. While these programs help contribute to education about LGBT people, Keiser calls them a “band-aid solution."


“What we really want is to remove the stigmas queer youth face after coming out so such programs become unnecessary. There’s still a social stigma and societal inequality: trans folks (for example) still don’t have legislation to protect them from discriminatory practices in the workplace, both nationwide and in-province,” she said.


Keiser emphasizes the need for self-education. Although there is some misinformation among the public, there are many good programs and resources available, “Things are improving,” she said.


White is hopeful that future studies will show a decrease in depression and suicide rates among the LGBT community.


“Social stigma (towards LGBT people) is slowly going away. Parents aren’t kicking their kids out as much, schools are coming out with safe zones, and some churches are accepting gays within their communities.”


He said there is still much work to be done, however, on removing the stigma of mental health issues. White also advised those suffering from depression not to condemn themselves as being weak.


“We need to talk openly about mental health and depression – when someone seems depressed, call it what it is, say: ‘You seem depressed.’ The best way to remove the stigma is by talking about it: around the supper table, in classrooms and on coffee breaks. Those removed from social connections are at the biggest risk – if you are feeling depressed, call a friend.


"Depression is far more widespread and debilitating than people think. People (who are depressed) need to be kind and gentle to themselves: give themselves a bit of a break.”



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