Jamel Myles, a 9-year-old fourth grade student at Joe Shoemaker School in Denver, committed suicide on August 23, 2018 after relentless bullying from fellow students. Jadin Bell, a 15-year-old high schooler from La Grande, Oregon, took his own life on February 3, 2013 after being immensely harassed and bullied in school and online. Leelah Alcorn, aged 17 from Ohio, committed suicide on December 28, 2014 as a result of her parents lack of support and rejection of her identity.
Three tragic stories, but one common theme: a lack of acceptance of and persecution based on LGBTQ+ identity. Although suicidality is not a mental health issue that is localized within the LGBTQ+ community, multiple studies have displayed an increased prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide in the queer community when compared to non- LGBTQ+ identifying people. From resources and studies compiled by The Trevor Project, it has been shown that “LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth” and “are five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.” These statistics are a cause for concern. The elevated rate of taking one’s life within the queer community is seen to be related to excessive bullying during childhood and adolescence, and to family rejection of LGBTQ+ individuals. LGBTQ+ people also contract multiple other mental illnesses at a higher rate than heterosexual people. I recommend Michael Hobbes’ piece in the Huffington Post about this issue entitled “The Epidemic of Gay Lonliness,” as it views LGBTQ+ health on a much broader scale. The issue of LGBTQ+ suicide and mental health is a pressing concern deserving of more attention. The situation may only worsen if health care policy and accessibility to support groups and medical treatment are not reformed and improved in the near future.
Though the phenomenon of increased LGBTQ+ suicide may be unsettling, there are ways that we all can help mend this health epidemic. If you yourself are struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has recommendations on how to cope and heal. The institution recommends developing a support network of people around you that can be leaned on in times when you feel suicidal or depressed. They also say that acknowledging that you are not alone in this struggle is beneficial and to talk to someone about your feelings, be it a therapist, family member, friend, or a suicide prevention hotline. Also making a safety plan, a plan to be implemented when feeling suicidal, depressed, or in a crisis, to follow until you again feel safe is a great way to protect yourself. Alongside the recommendations for those having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides on their website tips for people who want to help prevent LGBTQ+ suicide. These tips include pointers on how to be a supportive ally to the queer communty. Ask queer and trans people how they are feeling, be an active listener if or when a person feels comfortable discussing their suicidal feelings, and get the person help if they need it. Additionally, create family and community support networks that accept LGBTQ+ individuals and are safe spaces for queer people.
No one is alone in the fight for suicide prevention and better mental health care for the queer community. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, know that there is support out there for you or them. Below is a brief list of resources that provide services that support those struggling with suicidal thoughts. You can reach out to them if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide. We all can aid in mending this deep wound in the LGBTQ+ community. Only by coming together and building a supportive community based on love and acceptance is it going to be healed.