2020 has been characterized by multiple crises — the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment, and senseless violence against Black Americans — all of which have deeply impacted so many. The implications of these crises on mental health are just starting to be understood. But youth suicide still remains the second leading cause of death among young people and continues to disproportionately impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (L.G.B.T.Q.) youth.
L.G.B.T.Q. youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide and up to 50 percent of all trans people have attempted suicide. We also know that L.G.B.T.Q. youth of color report higher rates of attempting suicide. And despite experiencing rates of suicide attempts similar to all L.G.B.T.Q. youth, Black L.G.B.T.Q. youth are significantly less likely to receive mental health care.
These statistics are often ones that lead the news, and with good reason: L.G.B.T.Q. youth suicide is a public health crisis that demands urgent action. But only focusing on the negative can paint a picture that is unhelpful to the youth in crisis we strive to support, and it can be counterproductive to our shared mission of ending suicide.
We must remember that suicide is preventable and that every person can make a difference.
As the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for L.G.B.T.Q. youth, we at The Trevor Project have done our research — we found that L.G.B.T.Q. youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. And according to our upcoming 2020 National Survey on L.G.B.T.Q. Youth Mental Health, L.G.B.T.Q. youth who reported high levels of social support from family and friends were less likely to attempt suicide compared to those with lower levels of social support.
The fact that just one person can have such a huge impact on the life of a young person is inspiring and should command more attention in conversations around L.G.B.T.Q. youth suicide. To be that one accepting adult, you do not need to be a mental health expert or know everything about L.G.B.T.Q. identities. You just have to listen, be affirming, and have empathy.
That’s what The Trevor Project does every day. Through our 24/7 crisis services — via phone, chat, and text — young people can connect with one of our trained crisis counselors for free, whenever they need support.
Before I became the CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, I started as a volunteer counselor on our phone Lifeline in 2011. Since then, I’ve answered hundreds of calls from youth in crisis, and I continue to take shifts to this day. It remains the single most meaningful thing I have done in my life.
Central to our organization’s mission is sending a clear message to L.G.B.T.Q. young people that they should be proud of who they are and that they are not alone, even in their darkest moments. I know we don’t always consider the impact of our day-to-day interactions, but simply reminding someone that they deserve love and support can go such a long way. Even as the simultaneous crises of 2020 fuel much pain, suffering, and isolation in the world, it is so important that we continue to offer messages of hope and positive guidance on how to enable young people to survive and thrive.
Our work is ongoing and the task before us is daunting. We estimate that there are more than 1.8 million L.G.B.T.Q. young people who seriously consider suicide every year in the U.S. But we also know that acceptance saves young L.G.B.T.Q. lives and progress is being made every day.
If you are ever wondering how you can help, remember you can be that one accepting person in a young person’s life. And by doing just that, you can help prevent suicide.