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Mental Health

Preventing Suicide in LGBTQ+ Teens

For children, teens, and young adults aged 10 to 24, the second leading cause of death is suicide. Teens and young adults who belong to the LGBTQ+ community experience suicidal ideation (seriously contemplating a suicide attempt) three times as often as their heterosexual/cisgender peers. LGBTQ+ youth attempt suicide five times at the rate of their heterosexual/cisgender peers.

These are self-reported numbers. The actual suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth remains unknown because sexual orientation and gender identity are not reported in death records, and there is little research attempting to shed light on the issue. That is partly why it is difficult to determine how many LGBTQ+ youth completed suicide, despite the evidence that the suicide risk is massively higher among LBGTQ+ youth than other demographics.

However, research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are by large well-adjusted and mentally healthy. Studies show that LGB as well as transgender youth do not report mental health issues as a majority. Why are LGBTQ+ so much more likely to try to commit suicide, then? The answer lies in a series of unique risk factors that the LGBTQ+ community deals with.

Risk Factors for LGBTQ+ Teens

LGBTQ+ teens remain statistically more likely to report depressive symptoms, as well as substance abuse, and anxiety. But their increased risk of suicidal ideation cannot be explained by depression alone. Even when controlling for mental health issues and diagnosed instances of depression, LGBTQ+ teens remain more likely to attempt suicide.

Two risk factors that are unique to teens in the LGBTQ+ community are family rejection and a far higher likelihood of adolescent victimization (i.e. bullying). Both family rejection and adolescent victimization directly correlated with greater risk of suicide attempts, and suicides that required medical attention. Studies also made note of the increased risks of depression and suicide among transgender teens in particular.

Aside from LGBTQ+-specific risk factors like increased victimization and family rejection, LGBTQ+ youth also remain more at-risk for body image disorders and eating disorders, as well as reports of very low self-esteem. These tend to correlate with the risk of suicide. Notable risk factors to watch out for in teens in the LGBTQ+ community include:

    • Alcohol use
    • Other drug use
    • Signs of depression (including persistent low mood, a sudden change in sleeping habits, lack of motivation for old hobbies)
    • Signs of self-destructive behavior or maladaptive coping (including self-harm, binge eating, risky behavior)
    • Frequently talking about suicide, joking about suicide

On the other hand, research makes note of protective factors that may help reduce or prevent suicide attempts and help improve mental health outcomes among LGBTQ+ youth. These include:

    • Affirming relationships with peers and family
    • Family support
    • More legislation that protects LGBTQ+ youth
    • Changing policies and mindsets that discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth at school and in healthcare
    • Increased community awareness and tolerance for LGBTQ+ youth
    • Better access to mental healthcare

Suicide prevention is critical for LGBTQ+ youth, due to their disproportionate risk of attempting suicide. Another way to help reduce suicidal ideation is to directly target and treat the co-occurring risk factors, including mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as codependent substance abuse.

Suicide, Depression, and Substance Use in LGBTQ+ Teens

Substance use also plays a role in LGBTQ+ rates of suicidal ideation among youth, as LGB adolescents are shown to be at a higher risk of substance use and substance use disorders. While substance use describes the non-medical use of drugs and alcohol, substance use disorders are instances where substance use reaches a point wherein it becomes compulsive and severely self-destructive.

In many cases, LGBTQ+ youth resort to substance use to cope with associated risk factors, including stress and depressive symptoms. Drugs like alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and different forms of prescription medication can help induce short-term euphoria, but at the cost of both an increased likelihood of using the drug again (and again), and long-term consequences related to excessive drug use (including cognitive decline, memory loss, greater risk of cancer, and more).

Treatment for teens with mental health issues and a codependent substance use disorder differ from treatment for just mental health issues. LGBTQ-specific dual diagnosis treatment aims to address substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health issue within the context of nonconforming gender identity and sexual orientation.

Why Access to Mental Healthcare Is Critical

LGBTQ+ youth struggle with diminished access to mental as well as physical healthcare. Barriers to access include denial of service and other forms of negative bias and discrimination, including a greater risk of sexual assault from medical professionals, and delayed or inadequate care. Advocating for your loved ones and ensuring that they get access to the proper care they deserve is critical.

Mental health treatment for LGBTQ+ teens does not typically differ from treatment for their heterosexual peers with the same disorders. Mental healthcare professionals do account for the unique context of each teen’s experiences and issues, including instances of physical or verbal victimization, cyberbullying, and family rejection.

Among transgender teens who are experiencing symptoms of gender dysphoria, proper “treatment” will involve coordinating with the teen’s parents to help create an affirmative environment to help them explore their gender identity naturally and impartially, without fear of judgment. Carefully selected teens may undergo other forms of treatment depending on how their gender identity evolves, including puberty suppression and cross-sex hormones.

When seeking to reduce the suicide risk among LGBTQ+ teens, it helps to be aware of the factors that contribute to that risk, and aware of the protective factors that help diminish it. Some of the facts and science surrounding the LGBTQ+ community may be unknown or new to many parents, which is why continuing education is always critically important.

If you believe your teen or loved one is at risk of attempting suicide, it is important to get in touch with a mental health professional and consider how you can approach the topic in conversation. It is infinitely more important to address your worries than to shy away from the idea due to its controversial nature. No, talking to a teen about suicide does not plant suicidal ideas in their head. Instead, you might be able to give them the opportunity to make themselves heard and seek a solution for their issues together.

Categories
Mental Health Prevention Recovery Service Suicide Teen Activism

Visions Walks for Suicide Prevention: Staff Stories

On September 28, Didi Hirsch hosted their 16th annual Alive Walk 5k Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention. Visions had a team this year, and several staff and alumni walked in honor of suicide prevention and to raise awareness and erase the stigma of suicide. Many of us have had the misfortune of losing someone to suicide, and finding a way to honor the lives of those lost while raising awareness to prevent a similar loss is a big deal. It can be profoundly healing to be amidst those who have had similar experiences. Dr. Noelle Rodriguez, Jenny Werber, and Nick Riefner were among the staff that were there. I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Noelle Rodriguez and Jenny Werber, and they were gracious enough to share their experiences with us:

Noelle:

“I’m so glad I participated in this 5k. I am recently grieving the loss of my dear friend who was 38, married, a father and a firefighter. He, like so many others, did not ask for help nor did he show obvious signs he was in despair.

Being a part of this while I am grieving was powerful, moving and profound. Many of the participants had a sign that read “In Memory Of” pinned to their shirts with the names of their loved ones–so many young lives gone, and gone way too soon.  We were together in solidarity. We were sharing our sadness but in no way loving the person less for how they departed. We were simply showing others there may be hope for them.

I was struck by a team that wore matching shirts that read H.O.P.E., which stood for Hold on Pain Ends. I thought about so many who have given up maybe much to soon before they realized there was a solution. We are all affected by suicide, a topic no one talks about and when they do it’s treated like the plague. I felt a sense of compassion and acceptance like I never have before. I am not angry for the loss of my friend; just sad he would not reach out for help.

While we may never stop people from committing suicide, talking about it will hopefully help someone else who may be thinking it’s their only option.

I love Marcello, I always will.”

Jenny:

“It was personal to me, as my cousin Matt committed suicide 12 years ago at the age of 26.  My Aunt and cousin (my late cousin’s mom and brother) walk each year in honor of Matt and in support of suicide prevention.  I did not know they participated in this event until this year, and a team was formed in memory of Matt, where family and friends surprised my Aunt and cousin at the race’s starting line the morning of the race.  It was a pleasure and honor to walk with them to honor Matt and support them.

I created a team for Visions staff and clients to join and participate to honor those they may have lost.  Being there with my family and also with my Visions family was extremely touching.  While you wish there was never a reason for any of us to be at such an event, I believe it is the hope for all of us there that our contributions aid to awareness and prevention for someone else and their family.”

 

This event was a wonderful way to close out Suicide Awareness Month. However, this doesn’t mean we stop talking about suicide prevention and awareness. We can always raise awareness about suicide prevention and make concerted efforts to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Week: 9/9 – 9/15

The week of September 9-September 15 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Did you know that 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression yet two-thirds of those never get help? Depression is a leading cause of suicide making suicide the third leading cause of death for adolescents. (Via TWLOHA)  These numbers are neither comforting nor acceptable. In addition to National Suicide Prevention Week, the International Association for Suicide Prevention deemed September 10 World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). This means we start Suicide Prevention Week off with a day of real action.

  • Data from the WHO indicate that approximately one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds.
  • The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined. Suicide attempts and suicidal ideation are far more common; for example, the number of suicide attempts may be up to 20 times the number of deaths by suicide.
  •  It is estimated that about 5% of persons attempt suicide at least once in their life and that the lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation in the general population is between 10 and 14%.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among the young.
  • Suicide statistics may not always be accurate. Many suicides are hidden among other causes of death, such as single car, single driver road traffic accidents, unwitnessed drownings and other undetermined deaths.
  • Suicide is estimated to be under-reported for multiple reasons including stigma, religious concerns and social attitudes.
  • The psychological and social impact of suicide on the family and community is enormous.
  • The economic costs associated with self-inflicted death or injuries are estimated to be in the billions of US dollars a year.

Who is at Risk of Suicide?

  • Suicide affects everyone, but some groups are at higher risk than others.
  • A history of previous suicide attempt(s) or self-harm is the strongest predictor of future death by suicide, corresponding to a 30-40 times higher suicide rate than the general population.
  • People with a psychiatric disorder and/or substance-related disorder.
  • Those who experience stressful life events

Take action!

  • Light a candle near a window at 8 pm on WSPD and show unified support for suicide prevention.
  • Use social media to get involved. Go nuts! The hashtags for Twitter and Tumblr are #WSPD12 and #TWLOHA
  • Check out To Write Love on Her Arms on Twitter (@TWLOHA) and Facebook. There will be an orange logo you can use as a profile pic to show your support.

If you are suffering, please tell someone. I want to believe that within each of us lies the dim light of hope. If you see a friend suffering, please don’t walk away. More than anything, they need your love and compassion so that dim light can brighten. Help is as far as an outstretched hand or a phone call. We can change those statistics one person at a time.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-TALK

Visions is also here to help you no matter the time, day or night:  866-889-3665