Hannah Michelle Bussa
Content warning: suicide prevention
World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10. While suicide prevention is typically focused at an individual level, communities can come together to work to prevent suicide.
Andrew Aleman, LCSW, Deputy Director of People Power and National Partnerships at Black and Pink National, said his immediate thought is empathy.
“There are many things that impact the experiences of those who consider suicide,” he said. “What is often missing is empathy. Understanding people’s experience, feelings, emotions and nuances is important. Relationship is an intervention and empathy is a tool for that intervention.”
Aleman has 12 years of experience working with young people, primarily LGBTQIA2S+ and system impacted youth. He has worked in therapeutic, organizational and community-based settings.
LGBTQIA2S+ youth attempt suicide at higher rates than heterosexual youth.
“We need more spaces where people can be their true authentic selves,” Aleman said. “We need more spaces where parents and caregivers can learn about the experiences their young people are navigating. Parents of LGBTQIA2S+ young people need just as much support, if not more.”
Aleman said the community needs to advocate for policies and movements that support those whose stories and experience are rarely told. The community needs to advocate against policies and movements that seek to silence those most impacted.
“When people feel like they are affirmed, safe, and belong it drastically reduces their likelihood of attempting suicide,” Aleman said.
He said utilizing someone’s pronouns appropriately and calling them by their name profoundly impacts their sense of belonging and safety. Research from the Family Acceptance Project, GLSEN and the Trevor Project show this to be true.
Aleman said policies could help prevent suicide. It is important to look in many places for these policies.
“For example, the Nebraska State School Board is currently looking at creating health standards,” he said. “Part of these health standards include suicide prevention, discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as information about bullying. This would create a much-needed outline for school districts to create spaces that are affirming and safe for both their students and staff.”
Beyond schools, communities can pass policies than can affirm people’s identities and help prevent suicide.
“In order for LGBTQIA2S+ people to feel truly affirmed and safe in this state, we must pass legislation which addresses workplace discrimination as well as harmful practices such as conversion therapy,” Aleman said.
Naomi Hattaway is an affordable housing and homelessness advocate and a former candidate for City Council.
“When I think about suicide prevention, a number of things come to mind, but paramount to the work I do every day, is the current lack of access to equitable, fair and affordable housing,” she said.
Hattaway has been involved in the fight for equitable affordable housing and the role it plays in the overall ecosystem of a healthy city for a long time. She has sold real estate and worked with a large community of individuals navigating housing outside of their passport countries when she lived in India and Singapore. When she moved back to Omaha in 2017, she worked with affordable homeownership with Habitat for Humanity. For the last 18 months, she has worked in the space of homelessness prevention with several initiatives.
“Community care comes in many forms, and consistent, safe and affordable housing provides a strong cornerstone to preventing expanded or extended harm and trauma in our community,” she said. “Evictions are traumatic. Housing instability is harmful, relentless and exhausting.”
When Hattaway ran for Omaha City Council in District 6, one of her campaign pillars was mental health and housing.
“Omahans should have access to support for their mental health and wellness,” she said. “Generally, public health and mental health care is overseen by the Douglas County Health Department, however, the Omaha City Council can help direct important funding to the various nonprofit organizations providing mental health care services.”
Hattaway said it is imperative that City Councilmembers consistently educate themselves from experts in the field. They cannot squander opportunities to fund organizations doing this important work. They should prioritize mental health when writing and enacting policy.
“Affordable housing, when it is also safe and stable, provides a very necessary foundation for health and wellness,” she said. “When our communities do not insist on equitable access to housing, as a right, we do a disservice to the overall wellbeing of our city, neighborhood by neighborhood—and that includes mental health.”
The stigma of lack of housing impacts neighbors. Hattaway said this can even happen at a young age.
“This can exacerbate already existing mental health struggles or lead to an individual experiencing the same for the first time, compounded by their housing crisis,” she said.
While individual measures like therapy, talking about feelings and support groups are beneficial, the overall support of community matters as well, which can be found in policies.