No More Suicides!
Think you don’t have the time? Think again. Here’s the extent of the problem.
Teens for Life is an educational program offered by Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. The program is presented at schools all over the Bay Area. The webpage says: “In the United States, nearly 5,000 young people die from suicide each year. For every youth that dies, an additional 100 to 200 suicide attempts are made. In California, suicide is the third leading cause of death in persons between the ages of 15 and 24.” Of those young people, how many were queer, transgender, or gender nonconforming?
The Trevor Project says “LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight peers.” The Jason Foundation includes “gay and lesbian youth” in their list of groups at “elevated risk of suicidal thought.” A report recently issued by Campus Pride says that “more than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff (43%) and 13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.”
An article written by Paul Cody, Ph.D., says
Cody also states “In general, our society is a perilous wasteland for sexual and gender minority youth. It is a wasteland because the resources that might help them in the developmental tasks of finding identity and establishing intimacy are nonexistent in most places, scarce in others. It is perilous because there are real dangers to their emotional and physical well-being which they must try to navigate.”
A “Preventing Transgender Suicide” brochure lists “victimization and post-traumatic stress” and “systemic stressors” (social gender norms and social disapproval) as additional factors that create mental health problems and add to suicide risk.
A suicidal kid may or may not know to call a crisis line. A queer suicidal kid may or may not have the toll-free number for The Trevor Project in order to get informed, queer-friendly assistance. So while many suicide prevention foundations and community and online resources are aware that LGBTQ youth make up a significant portion of their consumers, not all provide their volunteers with training in LGBTQ issues.
For example, where I volunteer, I have been given a training manual which deals with a number of populations with special needs, but does not mention LGBTQ people as being at higher risk for suicide, in adolescent or any other categories. In this manual, LGBTQ and alternative sexuality issues are only referenced in the section for dealing with “sex callers,” people who try to use the crisis line for masturbation. Because I’m currently training with a group of volunteers who are truly reflective of Bay Area diversity, including folks who, because of background or culture, are not entirely comfortable with queer or trans issues, this seems a grave oversight. I’m not putting my comrades or the agency down—we all want to save lives! It’s just that queer youth, and queer folk of any age, have a need for precise understanding when they’re in crisis. Our training should include all sorts of diversity issues. Otherwise any one of us could come up short as we respond to someone in need. This seems particularly important with high-risk groups, like LGBTQ youth and others.
When an agency provides training which overlooks such groups, sexologists could help. With their extensive training in human sexuality and gender issues, along with their famous sex-positive, nonjudgmental outlook, sexologists could make a contribution to the field of suicidology by creating training in LGBTQI and other alternative sexualities for crisis line counselors, volunteers, and community educators.
Get the Facts About Suicide
Anyone talking of suicide or self-harm or showing any of the warning signs should be taken very seriously. Contrary to popular belief, talking openly about suicide is helpful, not harmful. The topic’s taboo creates even greater loneliness for the person who is troubled. Therefore it’s important to ask people if they are feeling suicidal, if they have a plan and if they have the means, and then offer the kind of support and encouragement that helps them to remember that they have other options beside suicide.