WARNING: this post contains in-depth language and information about suicide. If you are in acute crisis looking for help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or dial 911.
Earlier this month, we published a blog outlining the basic facts of suicide awareness, prevention, and support in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month. Throughout the month of September, Charlie Health is committed to providing resources and information on suicide as a way to proactively combat the current youth suicide crisis. As we’ve written before––and discussed thoroughly in other outlets––rates of both youth suicide and suicide ideation are on the rise across the country. According to the CDC, the national suicide rate for young people aged 10-24 increased by 57% from 2007 to 2018.
But today, we’d like to focus on a specific subset of young people who disproportionately deal with suicide, suicidal tendencies, and health emergencies related to suicide: LGBTQIA+ youth. "LGBTQIA+ youth consistently face messaging (from many aspects of culture) that their very existence is wrong, damaging, or damaged. Those messages get internalized, and the resulting harm can be severe," Ley David Elliette Cray, P.h.D., one of Charlie Health’s mindfulness instructors and LGBTQIA+ consultants, explained.
The Trevor Project is a leading research and resource center committed to suicide education and prevention for LGBTQIA+ youth. At Charlie Health, we believe that suicide education is key to prevention. And some of their most recent research paints an alarming picture of the current landscape of suicide in the LGBTQIA+ population:
- LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of non-LGBTQIA+ youth.
- LGBTQIA+ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to non-LGBTQIA+ youth.
- Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGBTQIA+ youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
- Suicide attempts by LGBTQIA+ youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their non-LGBTQIA+ peers.
While these figures are harrowing, we know parents, caregivers, friends, coaches, and teachers must understand how high the stakes are for their LGBTQIA+ loved ones in order for all of us to collaborate in care plans and other long term solutions for suicide prevention. “When invalidation can come from any direction, a multi-faceted, wide-reaching, and coordinated approach to care and affirmation is key,” Cray said. There are multiple settings in which suicide prevention has to be centered, especially for LGBTQIA+ youth. According to the Trevor Project, creating a safe, inclusive, and representative environment in schools could significantly reduce rates of suicide and suicide ideation. Some of their recent research indicates that this isn’t the norm in most schools though, with more than half of LGBTQIA+ middle and high schoolers surveyed reporting that they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. More than a third said the same about their gender and gender expression. On the other hand, in schools that centered LGBTQIA+ affirming programs such as using proper gender pronouns and names, building gender inclusive bathrooms, or crafting curriculums featuring historical figures from the LGBTQIA+ community, the Trevor Project found that:
- LGBTQIA+ youth in affirming schools had nearly 40% lower odds of attempting suicide compared to LGBTQIA+ youth in non-affirming schools.
- LGBTQIA+ youth who learned about LGBTQIA+ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
But what can individual parents or families do to foster a more positive and loving environment for their children and teenagers struggling with mental health issues while also navigating the formation of their gender identity and sexual orientation? Advocating for change at the individual school or school district level is a good start. If this isn’t feasible in your community though, there are lots of ways to make your home a more inclusive environment.
- Practice creating a safe environment by actively listening to your kids, especially when they talk to you about their identities and their experiences.
- Strive to better your own education by reading the stories of actual people from the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Issues of identity, sexuality, and gender are often complex and evolving; remain open to change and embrace humility.
Outside of school or at home, checking in with your loved ones’ medical care team is crucial in suicide prevention as well. Primary care doctors and pediatricians often screen for suicide, so be sure to schedule regular appointments. We’ve written about the signs of suicide and other mental health issues that can exacerbate suicidality, so if you think you or someone you love needs additional support or is in acute crisis, reach out to us. (In case of a medical emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or dial 911.)
Consistent self-care can also help ease the mental health symptoms that often contribute to thoughts of suicide. Check out this resource guide from the Trevor Project on some innovative ideas when you need a boost or are looking to help remind a loved one on how to practice some self love:
Eliminating suicide is possible. But only through education and prevention can we begin to make a dent in its frequency in LGBTQIA+ youth. Above all, compassion and care are the easiest ways to begin to win this battle.
Charlie Health’s team of licensed clinicians is here to support teens, young adults, and families struggling with mental health to process and navigate challenges together. Reaching out for help is a critical step in your journey toward healing. Professionals are available to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and match you with a treatment program that fits your needs.