A Look At LGBTQ+ Adolescents Concerning Self-Harm & Suicide: What Can We As A Community Do?

Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay

I have been asked in my current Introduction to Mental Health Counseling class to take the population I most desire to work with and discuss a particular issue that exists and what we, as the public, can do about it. Because of the suicide of a 12-year-old girl last summer, I have become a huge advocate in youth mental health. The public school system where I live, has started to educate students at the middle school level. Still, instead of calling out the names of these mental illnesses, they group everything under “stress” and “social-emotional well-being.” My first thought is good, they are doing something, but I think as younger adolescents are affected, schools, parents, and the community need to do more.

My Desire To Work With LGBTQ+ Adolescents

As I researched further, I saw a more pertinent need in helping adolescents that identify as LGBTQ+. This need first arose in me after having a friend back in the late 1990s stay ‘in the closet’ because he feared he would be ostracized. When he finally did come out, we told him that he could have told us sooner. We loved him for him, not for his sexual preference.

This yearning increased as my daughter would continue to tell me about friends and classmates in her middle school who were in the sexual and/or gender minority. I felt compassion and empathy for them because they had to keep everything hidden for the same fear my friend had all those years ago. Some of them had to keep it hidden from their parents as well, thinking they would not understand and would disown them. All of this hiding puts stress on LGBTQ+ youth and can, in turn, cause a severe episode of depression. This depression can get worse and lead to self-harm and suicide.

The Facts

I am no professional so I sought out peer-reviewed scholarly articles, meaning they are reliable and trustworthy.

For reference, when I speak of gender minority, I am discussing those that identify as nonbinary, transgender, gender-queer, gender-fluid, and gender nonconforming (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). When I speak of a sexual minority, I am referring to those that are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Oginni et al., 2019).

One of the first articles I read concerned a study done in the Avon area of England. The group that was studied was 4,274 children from infancy up to the twenties. They were observed at several points throughout their lives including at the ages of 15, 17, 18, and 20. They were looked at for sexual orientations and the relationship to depression, self-esteem, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. It was noted that the individuals who identified as in the sexual minority were more likely to develop depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation due to the societal stigma that surrounded them (Oginni et al., 2019)

Then, I reviewed a survey performed by the schools in Albuquerque, NM. This was one of the few school locations that looked at gender minority students with regard to their cisgender counterparts. The survey looked at the likelihood of developing violence victimization and self-harm as well as support systems in play for adolescents. The overall consensus was that the gender minority group had a higher percentage of victimization and self-harm than their cisgender peers. They also had significantly less support from family, school, the community, and peers (Ross-Reed et al., 2019).

A similar look at the under-served population of gender minority adolescents noted that these teens had a higher percentage of depression and suicide than their sexual minority peers. It was suggested that there is a clear need for prevention and intervention programs to serve this population especially due to the lack of data that is available. In one study it was noted that 83% of gender minority youth reported feeling depressed, 54% of them contemplated suicide, and 29% of them attempted suicide compared to their cisgender peers (Price-Feeney et al., 2020).

What Can We Do?

So, what can we actually do to help our stigmatized sexual and gender minorities? I am not going to lie, this is a tough question. Support is key. These adolescents need to know there is someone that supports them. They need to know that there is an adult who will advocate for them whether it is a parent, a neighbor, a teacher, or someone in the community. Once licensed, I will be their advocate with the schools, their parents, and the community. Adults that support this population need to come forward and publicly let these students know they are there for them.

One way my town supports our LGBTQ+ youth is that there is a yearly Pride Parade at the beginning of May. This event was created by two eighth-graders for their final middle school project. Every year there has been a large turnout. There is a walk which includes several local groups, including Free Mom Hugs, which I am apart of. There are many tents that have valuable information regarding the LGBTQ+ community as well as supportive local organizations.

We as a whole population need to learn acceptance and have empathy for LGBTQ+ adolescents (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). To just imagine the struggles they are going through breaks my heart.

What suggestions do you as my readers have to help the LGBTQ+ youth feel accepted?

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Important Resources for LGBTQ+ Adolescents

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Text Hotline: 741741

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

References

Oginni, O. A., Robinson, E.J., Jones, A., Rahman Q., & Rimes, K.A. (2019). Mediators of increased self-harm and suicidal ideation in sexual minority youth: a longitudinal study. Psychological Medicine, 49(15), 2524-2532. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1017/s003329171800346x

Price-Feeney, M., Green, A.E., & Dorison, S. (2020). Understanding the mental health of transgender and nonbinary youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(6), 684-690.

Ross-Reed, D.E., Reno, J., Penaloza, L., Green, D., & Fitzgerald, C. (2019). Family, school, and peer support are associated with rates of violence victimization and self-harm among gender minority and cisgender youth… Head To Toe Conference, April 25, 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(6), 776-783. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/101016/j.jadohealth.2019.07.013

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