Data shows LGBTQ+ teens are at greater risk of suicide in the past three years, and the risk keeps growing. This is according to a new study from The Trevor Project published earlier this year. The survey tracked responses from nearly 35 thousand young people ages 13-24 in the U.S, deemed eligible by the researchers and were unique to the LGBTQ+ experience.
Of the responders, 75 percent said they had felt anxiety in the past year. Sixty-one percent experienced symptoms of depression. Eighty-two percent wanted mental health care related to their identities, but 60 percent of those were unable to get it. They also reported physical threats and intimidation related to their identities and gender expression at high rates—nearly 40 percent in some cases. Most tellingly, more than 45 percent of all LGBTQ+ teens considered suicide in the past year, and 20 percent of transgender and nonbinary young people considered it. Moreover, rates were higher among youth of color in all categories. Significantly, the numbers among LGBTQ+ youth are significantly higher than youth in any other demographic group, defined by race and ethnicity.
September is suicide prevention month, and it’s an important time to be mindful of the need for care for both young people and everyone. According to the CDC, all suicides in the U.S. increased more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2020.
Jennifer A. Rumboldt, vice president regional operations officer for Worcester and Northwestern MA for TD Bank, is a strong advocate for attention—and seeking care. She heads up the LGBTQ+ group at the bank for the region, and notes that they are paying particular attention to suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ people, an area in which they haven’t been active previously. She has experienced the loss and tragedy firsthand:
“I lost my daughter to suicide eight years ago, and she was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. So I really wanted to spearhead something around prevention and awareness for others, but certainly recognizing what were up against in today’s world.
“With the shutdown and the pandemic, people’s lives have changed. Outside groups that were able to support our LGBTQ+ youth have shut down, or were limited and may not even operate at all.”
She adds that she didn’t want people to be afraid or nervous about talking about these issues and that it’s important to educate people, particularly about warning signs, which in her case she didn’t see.
Mostly, she wants people to know that there is help out there for people who are struggling, and the good news is that the Trevor Project study also found that the risk of suicide or other self-harm among LGBTQ+ youth in supportive environments—whether at school, home, or work—was significantly reduced.
And there are many places to get help. In July, the FCC began a new mental health hotline. Simply dialing 988 will put callers in touch with the Suicide & Crisis Hotline. The Biden administration has invested more than $400 million in expanding crisis centers and other mental health systems to support this effort. In Connecticut, callers can also dial 211 to be put in touch directly with a caseworker who can help them. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org) has a range of services on their site, including listings for special services for LGBTQ+ people, seniors, and veterans.
Prevention, however, begins on an interpersonal level. Providing a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ youth, allowing them to communicate their concerns, and seeking professional treatment are all essential. Young people who have close personal relationships are also at lower risk for suicide or self-harm. Though it hasn’t been studied scientifically, educators and psychologists agree that the recent isolation necessitated by the pandemic and interpersonal relationships conducted often over Zoom have impeded the development of strong, sustaining friendships, which are critical to mental health. The same holds true for the work environment where isolation has taken an emotional toll on people.
It’s also essential for parents and caregivers to be mindful of why young people who wanted mental health care didn’t get it. Their top three reasons were a fear of discussing mental health concerns (48 percent), fear of getting parental consent (45 percent), and fear of not being taken seriously (43 percent) Other issues included being outed, an inability to afford care, inability to access care, and fear of their identities being misunderstood.
Virtually all of these issues could be resolved—or certainly helped—by providing an open, supportive and loving environment for kids. Suicide is a tragedy and in many, if not most, cases, preventable. September is a good time to make ourselves aware of what we can do—but we need to be engaged all year.
You can access the entire Trevor Project study online at www.thetrevorproject.org.