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RHVP: LGBTQ Youth Suicide

This post is part of the Report Homophobic Violence, Period initiative.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15-24 according to Statistics Canada—only accidents cause more deaths.  In 2007 there were over 500 suicides among Canadians under the age of 25, and many thousands of attempts.  Unfortunately, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and two-spirited youth, as well as youth questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, are at a much higher risk of suicide than their peers.  Research results generally confirm that LGB youth have much higher levels of suicidal thinking and attempts than their heterosexual peers – 4 to 7 times more attempts. “Among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments.”  (Hatzenbuehler, 2011)

Risk Assessment Guide

  1. Has the person made previous attempts?
  2. Is there a plan, including available method of death?
  3. Has this person little in the way of an identifiable support system?  (e.g. family or friends)
  4. Is there evidence of mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction present?

Keep in mind that:

  • Suicidal language can be used to express pain and a need for change.
  • Suicide attempters are often ambivalent.  Hopelessness and helplessness mark those who are determined to die.
  • Many people who are depressed are also suicidal but not all depression leads to a desire for death.
  • Some long-term chronically depressed people have periods of time when they are suicidal, including during what appear to be “better” periods.
  • Gender and age affect suicide risk.  Women make more suicide attempts than men, but have much lower rates of completed suicide.  This is because men are more likely to choose lethal methods.

Factors

LGBT Youth Suicide Risk Factors (these factors apply to youth overall but are more prevalent among LGBT adolescents)

  • Suicide attempts by acquaintances
  • Depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse (mal-adaptive coping skills)
  • Social inequity, sparse social networks, lack of legal protections, hostile school or work environments, verbal or physical harassment, persecution or victimization
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Homelessness and/or dropping out of school
  • Lack of positive role models and support
  • Family dysfunction or family rejection
  • Identity conflict or identity confusion

LGBT Youth Suicide Protective Factors

  • Positive media and community role models
  • Strong social support network to develop self-esteem (family and friends)
  • School policies that specifically protect LGBTQ students
  • Social inclusion (positive inclusive community and school spaces)
  • Access to school, community and web-based resources

What can you do?

  • If someone is attempting suicide, keep them talking, whatever you say or do can only be neutral and/or beneficial
  • You CANNOT talk somebody into taking their life if they don’t want to
  • Avoid making statements that dare them to attempt suicide or increase their pain