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Suicide Leading Cause of Death for LGBTQ Youth - Why Are They Not Reaching Out for Help and How Do We Address Disparities in Care?
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, and Trent Gerdeman, Marketing Intern, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that the LGBTQ community is at higher risk for suicide due to a lack of peer support and harassment, mental health conditions and substance abuse. Family support also plays a particularly important role in affecting the likelihood of suicide. Those who faced rejection after coming out to their families were eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were accepted after revealing their sexual orientation.
Mental Health Conditions and Stigma Exacerbate Problem
While the LGBTQ community faces mental health conditions just like the rest of the population, many experience more negative mental health outcomes due to prejudice and other biases. NAMI reports that LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. The fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identity leads to depression, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.
The fact is the LGBTQ community must not only confront stigma based on their sexual orientation or gender identity but must also deal with the stigma surrounding mental illness. And some report having to hide their sexual orientation from those in the mental health system for fear of being ridiculed or rejected.
As a community, LGBTQ individuals do not often talk about mental health and may lack awareness about mental health conditions. As a result, some don't seek needed treatment and support. Rates of mental health conditions are particularly high in bisexual and questioning individuals and those who fear or choose not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Why are LGBTQ Youth Not Reaching Out for Help?
Isolation is a primary reason why many are not reaching out for help when they begin to feel suicidal. Contributing to this feeling of isolation are peer bullying, verbal and physical harassment and parental disapproval. Youth often feel they can’t talk to adults about their problems as they seem too shut off or too authoritarian.
When people feel alone, with nowhere to turn and no one to understand them, suicidal thought rears its ugly head. Some will reach out for help while far too many take actions they think are the only escape from the isolation and pain they are feeling.
For Those Reaching Out, Where Are They Going?
Our youth have grown up in the digital age and are much more comfortable discussing serious problems such as suicidal thoughts virtually. For example, PyschCentral reports that youth, both straight and members of the LGBTQ community, are much less likely to reach out for suicide prevention on a hotline and are more likely to reach out on one of their social media accounts; specifically:
In so many other aspects of their lives, LGBTQ youth have been shunned. The anonymity of social media allows them to converse with others, whether or not their identify is known, which can help those seeking help feel like it's a safe and nonjudgmental space to talk about their problems.
Addressing Disparities in Care for LGBTQ Youth Also Struggling with a Mental Illness Diagnosis
"The greatest need for all human beings is the need for connection - to be seen, to be heard and to be held." - Dr. Gabor Mate, M.D.
According to NAMI, early intervention, comprehensive treatment and family support are the key to helping LGBTQ youth get onto the road to recovery from a mental health condition. While there are resources available to help teens and young adults, including the It Gets Better campaign and The Trevor Project, there is no solution specifically tailored to those who are also struggling with a mental illness.
Further, it is also apparent that for far too many there is little-if-any friend or family support. And while progress has been made, there are still disparities and unequal treatment among LGBTQ groups seeking care. Though more therapists and psychiatrists today have positive attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, people still face unequal care due to a lack of training and/or understanding.
The solution for both online crisis intervention and sustained support for LGBTQ youth struggling with a mental illness is we must connect with them where they are most comfortable and that is online; moreover, we must do so in a caring, nonjudgmental manner.
Building a virtual, safe space where youth can log into a password-protected website and interact with their own community who are experiencing the same struggle can not only empower them but also lift others up. In such an environment, they may also be more willing to accept not only crisis intervention but also a peer mentors for sustained support.
As there is currently no such solution and such a program is clearly needed, this is the first program Hope Xchange is designing in our 2017 line-up. We are doing this with the input of those we mentor in our successful bipolar mentoring program who also happen to be gay and transgender.
Find the Trevor Project at http://www.thetrevorproject.org. They provide a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. They also provide online chat and text messaging.
NOTE: In a follow up post tomorrow, we will be addressing why we're not only designing a virtual, safe space for the LGBQA+ community but why we feel a separate, second space must be developed for transgender youth struggling to cope with a mental illness diagnosis. We will also be sharing, based on our team's mentoring experience, that you can not only do suicide intervention via text and email but also build beautiful, caring relationships that sustain and support those who are struggling to not only hold onto hope but to life itself.