LGBTQ+ Teens at Risk
If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255.
This article will be tough to read (and was tough to write), but it’s important that we not look away.
In 2021, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people aged 10–24. While the rate remained stable from 2001 through 2007, it increased 62 percent from 2007 through 2021. The difference is even more stark for the 10–14 age bracket, where the suicide rate tripled from 2007 through 2018.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are at higher risk—more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. And many suicide risk factors are linked to being gay or bisexual in a hostile environment and the effects that environment has on mental health.
The 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that in Delaware, 11.4 percent of heterosexual students seriously considered attempting suicide during the previous 12 months. The rate jumped to 44 percent for gay, lesbian, or bisexual students; 8.7 percent of straight students actually attempted suicide, while nearly a quarter (24.3 percent) of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students did.
Suicide is rarely caused by a single circumstance or event, but the CDC has identified risk factors that can increase the possibility that someone will attempt suicide. Many of these factors affect LGBTQ+ youth disproportionately.
Depression ⊲ More than half (54 percent) of LGBTQ youth, 61 percent of transgender youth, and 61 percent of questioning youth are battling symptoms of depression, compared to 29 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. In Delaware, 29.8 percent of heterosexual high school students reported that they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row during the previous 12 months, as compared to 63.1 percent of their gay, lesbian, or bisexual peers.
Bullying ⊲ Nearly a third (31 percent) of LGBTQ youth, 43 percent of transgender youth, and 40 percent of questioning youth have been bullied at school, compared to 16 percent of their non-LGBTQ peers. In Delaware, LGBTQ+ high school students experienced bullying at a rate more than double that for straight students.
Loss of relationships/social isolation ⊲ After coming out, LGBTQ+ teens may find their friendships change (or are lost) and their relationships with family members are affected as well. LGBTQ+ youth who have at least one accepting adult in their life were 40 percent less likely to attempt suicide.
Victimization ⊲ LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be assaulted or threatened. The rate of stalking among bisexual women is more than double the rate among heterosexual women, and of those women who have been raped, almost half of bisexual women (48 percent) experienced their first completed rape between the ages of 11 and 17.
Lack of Access to Healthcare ⊲ Nearly one in ten (9 percent) LGBTQ+ people and one in five (21 percent) transgender people said that they received harsh or abusive language from a doctor or other healthcare provider when receiving care. LGBTQ+ youth may be less comfortable confiding in a medical professional and often must access care through their parents.
How to Help Yourself
Talk to someone. Don’t keep thoughts of suicide to yourself. Confide in someone you trust, find a therapist or support group, or reach out to one of the resources listed below.
Build a support network. Identify people (and organizations like CAMP Rehoboth) in your life that will help keep you safe and that you can go to if you feel depressed or suicidal.
Make a safety plan. Have a step-by-step plan ready for what to do if/when you feel depressed, suicidal, or in crisis, so you can start at step one and continue through the steps until you feel safe.
Seek help. If you’re struggling, you can call, text, or chat with the 988 Lifeline, 24/7. For specialized LGBTQI+ affirming counseling for youth, text Q to 988 or press 3 when prompted while calling. There are crisis counselors available to support you without judgment.
How to Help Others
Be an ally. Publicly show your support for the LGBTQ+ community. Ensure that you are supporting loved ones by affirming their identity, using their pronouns, and being committed to providing a non-judgmental and safe space. A recent study found that transgender children whose families affirmed their gender identity were as psychologically healthy as their non-transgender peers.
Ask and listen. Be an active part of your loved ones’ support systems and check in with them often. If they show any warning signs for suicide, be direct and ask. Tell them it’s OK to talk about suicidal feelings. Listen to their story without offering advice or judgment. For more guidance on steps you can take to help someone thinking of suicide, visit bethe1to.org.
Link them to resources. Work with your loved one to get them any help they might need.
Advocate for safe schools. Make sure your community’s schools are providing an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTQ+ kids and are actively preventing bullying.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 specialized services for LGBTQ+ young people. To access them, LGBTQ+ people under age 25 can call 988 and press 3 or opt in via chat or text.
The Trans Lifeline is a grassroots hotline offering direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis—for the trans community, by the trans community: translifeline.org; 877-565-8860.
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe. itgetsbetter.org/
The Trevor Project is a national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth: thetrevorproject.org.
Nancy Sakaduski is an award-winning writer and editor who owns Cat & Mouse Press in Lewes, Delaware.