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How addressing disparities in housing, transportation and nutrition improve mental health

September 30, 2020

At Evergreen, not only do we understand the complexity of risk factors which may lead people to contemplate suicide, we also find creative and innovative ways to support and improve circumstances. Research tells us that suicide prevention includes not just therapy and medicine, although those are key resources for people, but supportive services. Having access to equitable housing and transportation, stigma-free HIV and drug user services, food pantries and healthcare services, as well as inclusive LGBTQ+ care, are all suicide prevention.

Despite being one of the leading causes of deaths for all demographics, suicide is rarely talked about. According to the CDC, every eleven minutes someone dies from suicide. It is the second most common death in people ages 10 to 34, the forth in people 35 to 54 and the eighth cause of death for people 55 to 64 years of age. According to the Suicide Prevention Center of New York State (SPCNY), Latinx, Black youth, and Native and Indigenous populations all have significantly higher rates of suicide. These groups have greater self-reported feelings of hopelessness and sadness. Veterans are a growing population in suicide, particularly those who do not receive supportive services. SPCNY has identified protective measures, including community involvement and supportive and accessible health care, as effective means for suicide prevention.

Creating protective environments, where people feel supported and do not feel judged, is a key part of suicide prevention. Evergreen’s harm reduction model means that we offer care based on patients’ self-prescribed goals. We will never make any patient do or be anything they are not comfortable with. Our services are stigma-free, whether it’s our syringe exchange program or STI testing. People who use drugs or have chronic health conditions are often at risk for suicide. We welcome everyone and specialize in substance use, HIV care and hep C care.

Supportive services like those offered in our THRIVE wellness program are a way for people who are at risk for suicide to more actively become part of a group focused on addressing emotional, nutritional, physical and social needs. THRIVE activities promote connectivity to our patient’s physical and social health. Some wellness activities include art therapy and guided imagery, diabetes education, healthy lunches, cooking demonstrations and yoga.

The CDC agrees that strengthening economic supports, including financial security and housing stabilization are key factors in preventing suicide. Basic food, housing and transportation security are also crucial to suicide prevention. We know that these needs must be addressed before any real work on addressing mental health can happen. Our food pantries in Jamestown and Buffalo provide eligible patients and community members with a three-day supply of food and our nutrition classes teach participants how to give their bodies the best nourishment for their unique health goals. Transportation assistance, such as gas cards and bus passes, are available for qualified patients and our housing staff can help qualified patients with housing assistance.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are nearly five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and 40% of transgender adults reported having made at least one suicide attempt, according to The Trevor Project. Evergreen is a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals, founded in response to the AIDS crisis that was disproportionally affecting members of the LGBTQ+ community. With our affiliation to the Pride Center of Western New York, we remain committed providing compassionate and non-judgmental care to the LGBTQ+ community. Evergreen is a safe space for LGBTQ+ people struggling with suicide.

When resources are provided in a stigma-free environment, mental health improves. Our equitable services lessen self-harm and promote a better understanding of self and community. We talk about suicide because it affects so many people we care about and we are actively working to provide resources to people who have suicidal thoughts or intentions. Evergreen’s mission of fostering healthy communities by providing medical, supportive and behavioral services to those underserved by the healthcare system speaks directly to suicide prevention. Housing is suicide prevention. Transportation is suicide prevention. Inclusive care is suicide prevention.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day with free and confidential support at 1-800-273-8255 or for chat on their website. LGBTQ+ youth may also call the Trevor Project for a judgment-free place to talk at 1-866-488-7386.