Trigger warning: This post contains mention of suicide.
This September, HRC marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, reaffirming our commitment to preventing suicide and supporting the well being of LGBTQ youth and adults in our communities. The month gives us time to connect with those affected by suicide, reflect on how suicide has touched our own lives, and to share resources to better support individuals, families and their communities in efforts to prevent suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers, and members of the LGBTQ community are at great risk due to the impact of social stigma, family rejection, bullying, stigma, harassment and abuse. According to a 2016 study by the Center for Disease Control, 43 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months, compared to 15 percent of their heterosexual peers.
Additionally, in 2014 the Williams Institute and American Foundation on Suicide Prevention reported that 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming adults had attempted suicide. For those who had suffered discrimination, rejection, or violence because of their gender identity, the rate was even higher--in some cases reaching 78 percent.
Discrimination, at any level of society, can endanger lives. The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, reported a sharp increase in calls to their suicide hotline soon after Trump’s transgender military ban tweets and the introduction of anti-transgender legislation in Texas. Amit Paley, Trevor Project CEO and Executive Director, noted that “this data makes clear that our elected officials can no longer ignore that their anti-transgender rhetoric is putting lives at risk,” and pointed to how discriminatory language by our politicians can lead to “crisis” in LGBTQ communities.
We all have a role in preventing suicide in our communities and ensuring that LGBTQ youth and adults feel safe and supported. Whether or not we believe a friend or family member is at risk for suicide, supportive listening can help them feel better, and can reduce distress that might lead them to feel suicidal. The Trevor Project provides information on recognizing the warning signs of suicide, and how family, friends and professionals can help.
Parents and caregivers of LGBTQ youth have an especially crucial role in preventing suicide. According to research by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ youth whose families affirm their gender and sexual orientation are almost 50 percent less likely to make a suicide attempt compared to those whose families are unsupportive. Affirming actions can be as simple as talking openly about the child’s LGBTQ identity or inviting their LGBTQ friends to take part in family activities.
Fostering safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth is also key to preventing suicide. HRC’s Welcoming Schools program provides specific guidance to parents, teachers and the wider community for preventing anti-LGBTQ bullying and aggression in schools. This can be as simple as responding appropriately to anti-LGBTQ comments in the classroom, or encouraging educators to promote inclusivity and diversity in their lesson plans.
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re a young person and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386. If you are a transgender person of any age, call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860
To learn more about supporting LGBTQ youth in their homes, schools and communities, visit www.hrc.org/youth.