Tuesday, September 21, 2021

LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention


If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately via 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741).


September is Suicide Prevention Month! Although September is recognized as THE month to share information and resources about suicide intervention and prevention, it is something that should be talked about all year long. The more we talk about it, the more we NORMALIZE talking about it. If we are able to make these conversations less taboo, individuals experiencing suicidal ideation and/or behavior may be more likely to ask for help without the fear of being judged. 


Suicide is preventable, but sadly is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with almost 50,000 deaths occuring by suicide in 2019 [1].  Unfortunately, for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death [2]. Furthermore, when compared to heterosexual youth, LGBTQ+ youth are thought to be at an even greater risk. It is important to note that any statistics on this matter are likely not completely accurate and should be interpreted with caution. One might hypothesize that the statistics available about LGBTQ+ individuals and suicide are underreported. This is because the statistics do not include all of the individuals who may not have felt comfortable sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, death records do not include this information, but rather report the person’s age, sex, and race. You might be wondering why LGBTQ+ youth are at an even greater risk than heterosexual youth for suicidal ideation or behavior… We will talk about it, but first let’s talk about what “LGBTQ+” means. 


You may have heard or seen “LGBTQ+” and were unsure of what it means exactly. That is okay! The fact that you are here shows that you are willing to learn! LGBTQ+ is an initialism that is ever-evolving and is meant to refer to all communities included in “LGBTTTQQIAA”. Because it is ever-evolving, not all individuals agree on some of the terms used. The most important thing is to be open-minded, respectful, and use the terms that individuals share that they prefer. 


Here is a breakdown of LGBTTTQQIAA:

L-Lesbian

G-Gay

B-Bisexual

T-Transgender

T-Transexual

T-Two (2)-Spirited

Q-Queer

Q-Questioning
I-Intersex

A-Asexual

A-Ally

+Pansexual, +Agender, +Gender Queer, +Bigender, +Gender Variant, +Pangender 

For additional definitions/descriptions, click here. [9]


So, why is it that LGBTQ+ youth are at a greater risk than heterosexual youth? Well… there are a number of variables. These individuals are at a greater risk for experiencing internal risk factors such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental health difficulties. They are also at a greater risk for experiencing external risk factors, such as social isolation, substance abuse, prejudice, discrimination, family rejection, bullying, cyberbullying, harrassment, and mistreatment. In addition to these factors, some experience additional vulnerability due to the lack of laws and policies that protect them from discrimination [4]. These factors contribute to the overall level of risk of suicidal ideation and/or behavior in our LGBTQ+ youth. 


(Please note that not all LGBTQ+ youth experience these risk factors. Additionally, out of those who have experienced some or all of the associated risk factors, not all have struggled with suicidal ideation or behavior.) 


While it is important to be aware of these risk factors, it is equally as important to emphasize protective factors. As mentioned above, not all who experience these risk factors will experience difficulties with suicidal ideation or behavior. Protective factors play an important role in the health and well-being of our LGBTQ+ youth. Some of these protective factors include family and peer support, connectedness to the school and community, the ability to problem-solve, access to medical and mental health support, healthy coping skills, resiliency, beliefs that discourage self-harm or suicidal behavior, and limited access to lethal means [4, 5]. A focus on emphasizing and strengthening these protective factors will help to protect our LGBTQ+ youth against suicide. 


For WARNING SIGNS to look out for, click here. 


How to Support

If you are concerned that someone may be dealing with suicidal ideation or behavior…

  1. Start a conversation with them. Talk to them privately. Listen to their story without judgement: 

    1. This might seem awkward to you or you might not be sure where to start. The important thing is that you express your concern, that you care, and that you would like to help. It could be the move that saves a life! 

Here are some examples of ways you can begin the conversation: 

  • “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you?”

  • “Are you OK? You don’t seem like yourself lately.”

  • “Hey, you seemed frustrated today. I’m here for you.”

  • “Seems like something’s up. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

  • “I’m worried about you and would like to know what’s up so I can help.” 


  1. It is okay to ask directly about suicide. Confirm whether they have thoughts about dying or suicide. Do not agree to keep secrets that involve their safety. 

    1. It is never okay to share someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. If someone is experiencing suicidal ideation or struggling with suicidal behavior, there are ways to get help without “outing” them. 


If the person is having thoughts about dying or suicide, remain calm. Avoid discussions about the value of life, giving advice, or minimizing their problems. Reassure that there is help and that these feelings will not last forever. Encourage them to seek professional support.  [6,7,8]. 


  1. If you fear that the person is at imminent risk: 

    1. Provide constant supervision. Do not leave them alone. 

    2. Remove any means for self-harm.

    3. Get help. 

      1. Getting help may look like: informing their parent(s)/guardian(s), calling 911 or other emergency hotlines listed below, or transporting them to somewhere to be seen immediately by a medical professional (Emergency Department or Urgent Care Clinic).


  1. Continue to be a support for that person. Follow up with them after they have received help. Continue to check in with them and be there for them. 

    1. Some may initially feel betrayed by your actions. That is OKAY. Remind them that you got them help because you care about their safety. Be kind to yourself, too. It can be difficult when someone you care about feels as though you betrayed them, especially when you were acting in their best interest! Keep in mind that you did the right thing by protecting their health and safety. Give yourself grace. 



Assistance and Resources

  • In an emergency, call 911.


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


  • To text with a trained counselor from the Crisis Text line for free (24/7): Text TALK to 741741


  • The Trevor Project: 

    • TrevorLifeline: 1-866-488-7386

    • TrevorText: Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200

    • TrevorChat: Via thetrevorproject.org


  • Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860




Sources For Blog: 

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019


[2] CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}.  Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars


[3] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


[4] https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/talking-about-suicide-and-lgbt-populations-2nd-edition.pdf


[5] https://afsp.org/risk-factors-protective-factors-and-warning-signs#protective-factors


[6] https://seizetheawkward.org/conversation/starting-the-conversation 


[7] www.afsp.org/lgbtq


[8] https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/mental-health-resources/preventing-youth-suicide 


[9] https://ok2bme.ca/resources/kids-teens/what-does-lgbtq-mean/