There has been quite a bit of mainstream press regarding the rash of suicides of LGBT youth over the last year. It has been a challenging thing to see and understand as the press has picked up these stories. What’s unfortunate is that this perceived spike is more likely indicative of the press finally picking up on stories that many of us within the LGBT community have been aware of for some time.
Suicide and bullying are difficult problems to address. While a large majority of students are bullied, not many actually become suicidal. In short – bullying doesn’t cause suicide. Sure, there are factors that can be a result of bullying which can contribute to suicidal thoughts, but we have to be careful when looking at these issues in a larger framework.
The Trevor Project, along with GLAAD and a number of collaborating partners, recently released a report titled “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations”. You can view the report by clicking here. The report urges caution when discussing suicides and our community. Let’s examine why.
First, let’s review a few facts regarding suicide and the LGBT community (Courtesy of the Trevor Project):
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds, accounting for over 12% of /deaths.
- For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100-200 attempts are made.
- LGBT youth are up to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual peers.
- Nearly 1/3 of LGBT youth report having made a suicide attempt.
- Nearly 1/2 of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and 1/4 report having made a suicide attempt.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide than LGB peers who report no or low levels of family rejection.
The most recent case to make national attention is Jamie Hubley from Ontario, Canada, and it followed closely on the heels of Jamie Rodemeyer from Buffalo, NY. The cases are very similar in nature; the boys shared a first name and were close to each other’s age; their interests were similar, and their expression of their own self-identity mirrored one another; and both chronicled their struggles with bullying. It is because of these similarities that the Trevor Project urges caution when we discuss these kinds of cases.
There is often a link between high profile cases of suicide and an immediate increase in deaths attributed to suicide; this is known as Suicide Contagion. The case of Rodemeyer and Hubley highlights this grim phenomenon. Hubley may have been influenced by the similarities between Rodemeyer’s life and his own. Bullying was involved in each case, but it was only one of many contributing factors. It is more likely that mental health concerns contributed more to Hubley’s death.
Persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of rejection, isolation and despair, but remember, while a large majority of youth are bullied (according to GLSEN, 9 out of 10 LGBT youth report harassment in school), very few attempt suicide. Suggesting that suicide is a natural response to bullying can increase the contagion risk.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE IS IN TROUBLE
First and foremost, use the assistance line at the Trevor Project – 1-866-488-7386 (866-4-U-Trevor). It is staffed with trained volunteer counselors.
If you are concerned for someone’s safety and believe that person to be at risk, check out Trevor Project’s Y-CARE program:
- Y – You – You are never alone. You are not responsible for anyone who chooses to take their own life. As friends, family and loved ones, all you can do is listen, support and assist the person in getting the help they need.
- C – Connect – Connect the person to resources and to a supportive, trusted adult.
- A – Accept – Accept and listen to the person’s feelings and take them seriously.
- R – Respond – Respond if a person has a plan to attempt suicide and tell someone you trust.
- E – Empower – Empower the person to get help and call the Trevor Lifeline – 866-488-7386. It’s ok to seek help.
WHAT WE CAN DO AS A COMMUNITY
While there’s been a lot written in the mainstream press about the stressors on LGBT youth and links to suicide, there’s been very little written about the amazing resilience of the vast majority of LGBT youth. As noted above, about 90% of LGBT kids report being harassed by their peers in school, yet most do not attempt or even contemplate suicide. What we, as a community, need to know is that this resilience can come only from “community” itself – from providing a healthy, affirming place where our youth can feel that they truly have a safe home. Since we in the LGBT community cannot simply assume the norms of the society we live in – since the facts of our lives seem to challenge those very norms – our own strength comes from our necessary intentionality in relationships and our redefinition of loving family structures.
At the heart of these issues for LGBT youth is the frustration of feeling alone and isolated. Promoting good public policy – through non-discrimination laws, anti-bullying measures and even marriage rights – increases the quality of life for everyone in the LGBT community, young, old, and in-between. Those of us who have lived long enough to grow to adulthood owe it to those who came before us to do all we can to nurture the resilience of the LGBT youth who will follow in our footsteps. We can do this by creating healthy communities, by working for equality in the political and policy arenas, and by celebrating the strength, creativity, and resilience of our LGBT youth.
BY: A.J. BOCKELMAN
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