Let the conversation begin.
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, and Trent Gerdeman, Marketing Intern, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
Youth today, particularly those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) are dying by suicide in heartbreaking numbers. Traditional approaches are clearly not the solution, not giving our youth reasons to hold on to hope or to life itself.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ youth, with this group making up 30% of all youth suicide. The Trevor Project states the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for LGB youth and two times greater for questioning youth compared to straight youth. Nearly 50% of transgenders have seriously thought about taking their own lives, and 25% report making a suicide attempt.
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 Suicide
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 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. Some also 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, many 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 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 cannot confide in 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 thoughts surface. When this happens, the statistics clearly indicate that while some reach out, far too many take actions they think are the only escape from the isolation and pain they are feeling: they take their own lives.
For Those Reaching Out, Who Are They Reaching Out To?
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.
No Solution for LGBTQ Youth Struggling with Mental Illness
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, they still face unequal care due to a lack of training and/or understanding.
Our Solution Under Development Offers Hope on Horizon
"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.
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 peer mentors, as well as mental health advocacy assistance, for both caring and life-sustaining support.
As there is currently no such solution targeting gay youth with a mental illness and such a program is urgently needed, this is the first program Hope Xchange is designing in 2017. In a follow-up post, we will address suicide in the transgender youth community specifically — a population grossly underserved — and discuss why we are designing a program, HOPE for LGBTQIA, that is specifically targeting those at the highest risk of suicide, gay youth with bipolar disorder.
If you are in a crisis and need help now, please reach out. Please do it now. To find a list of hotlines, including LGBT, transgender-friendly, and teen lines, please GO HERE.