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

Poetry and Covid-19: “Droplets of Red”

I tried to remain positive but, hey, all of our lives have been turned upside down and I am fully convinced we are living somewhere in a cross between Groundhog’s Day and The Twilight Zone. To say I wasn’t back to the thoughts and feelings of last year would be a complete lie. It’s as if I never left.

Because of this I have been having some thoughts, bad thoughts, ideations, things I haven’t thought about first when I was 18 and then again at 35. I’ve expressed some of this in the poem below (again, not sure where the rhyming came from):

Droplets of Red

Eyelids heavy,

eyes darting beneath,

left to right,

What else would

happen on this

wretched night?

One body,

Two bodies,

lain on the floor

Within a

few days

are many more.

For them it was

the virus that

took them alive,

for me it was

the mental pain,

a plunging nosedive.

Ashamed

to admit this is a

selfish disease,

trying to think of

others as I ignore

my brain’s pleas.

Makes me

solidify my guilt for

feeling this way,

but we all have

valid feelings,

isn’t that what ‘they’ say?

I have felt

loss so great

in the last week or two,

my career, a loved one

and myself

to name a few.

I do not

deserve sympathy

for my grief,

It is so

selfish to think

that this would be brief.

My sanity, a

tiny grain of sand

on this lonely beach,

That blows in

the wind and

is just out of reach.

And now I look

down and see

crimson red,

and for the first time

in a long time thinking,

maybe, I should be dead.

No longer

contributing to my

family’s worth,

pondering

so much especially

my birth.

The bitch within

screams I am

no longer needed,

And at times

I believe

she has succeeded.

Living last year

severely depressed

still feeling the same,

There is no one

I more despise

than me insane.

I can’t explain all the

thoughts that swirl

in my head,

so I express my

internal pain with

droplets of red.

copyright 2020 – Stephanie Paige

*Disclaimer: I am under the watchful eye of both my psychiatrist and therapist. If you are self-harming or considering suicide, please reach out to someone. There is always help. Text CONNECT to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Or call the Self Harm Hotline at 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8388)* or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Chronic Depression and COVID-19

I have had diagnosed depression for the last 26 years. I can barely remember a time when I didn’t have it. Honestly, I probably was depressed since birth. It is just how my brain is wired. I have always been a chronic pessimist, seeing the glass fully empty. I was the one who knew I wasn’t invincible and expected bad things to happen to me. I would stare at happy people and wonder why I wasn’t circuited that way. And then as I aged, I just accepted that I was never ever going to have a sunny disposition.

In the beginning, my depression started out with episodes of major depressive disorder. As a teen I had MDD because we moved to a different state right before high school. Then came the stress of completing my senior year in high school followed by beating myself up over a poor semester in college.

Then it morphed. It became postpartum depression bringing anxiety, a new friend, into the mix. At some point it changed to dysthymia with episodic MDD. Then, it metamorphosed into cyclical depression last year becoming difficult to treat and adding several bipolar disorder medications to my regime.

I was somewhat stable, let’s say status quo, and then COVID-19 hit, the global pandemic that has made us all feel like we’re living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

At first it was my anxiety disorder that took possession of my body. I was worried that I would obtain this novel virus. This was enhanced by my daughter’s anxiety that had her thinking we were all going to contract and die from this coronavirus. It kept me awake as I could not shut my brain off even with 100mg of Trazodone, 100mg of Lamictal and 300mg of Gabapentin.

Then on April 1st anxiety departed and my chronic depression stood center stage. In the cruelest April Fool’s Day prank, I was laid off, except this was no joke. After I got off the phone with my boss, I told my husband I was going on a long walk. I was upset, crying (which is rare for me) and needed to clear my head. I wound my way through many local streets and the educational park. I couldn’t understand why. Yes, I knew on a large scale this was happening everywhere. I knew my company laid off 70% of their workforce and shut business down for who knows how long.

It was the smaller scale ‘Why me?!’ that was driving me into the dark abyss. There were four of us in the department who did the same thing. Two of us were let go. Why didn’t I make the cut?! I understood why one of the people in my department stayed but I couldn’t understand why the other one was there and I wasn’t. I had excellent reviews, my projects hadn’t been shut down yet, and I was not the last one hired. My husband explained to me that it was probably due to salary and I most likely was making more so to save the company money, I had to go.

But I couldn’t let go of this. It gnawed at my brain. The negative thoughts repeated themselves over and over again:

“You’re useless!”

“You’re worthless!”

“You sucked at your job! Why would they ever keep you?!”

“You’re not needed!”

“You couldn’t hold on to your job. Are you stupid?”

The guilt and self-loathing are the worst. I now feel as if I am not contributing anything to the family anymore. My income was almost equal to my husband’s. In my head we are now going to lose all our savings, including the savings we created for emergencies, you know like for a global pandemic! I just never thought we would have to actually use it. I have applied for unemployment and miraculously have not had to wait long as others have.

But the guilt is still there. I have self harmed several times since April 1st because I feel I deserve the pain. The loathing got worse when my coworker texted me for some information regarding one of my projects (the one who was hired after me). That day I had strong suicidal ideations. If I had a plan, who knows what I would’ve done. Luckily, I did not act on them and virtually met with my psychiatrist the next day and my therapist the day after.

It scares me. It scares me to not have anything to ‘do’. I’m petrified of how my thoughts may worsen. I thought my depression that lasted all of 2019 was bad, but this, this has gotten worse and in such a short amount of time.

I try to avoid my former coworkers because I am afraid of how this may trigger me. This is hard to do sometimes as my boss calls me weekly to ‘check in’. Check in on what? How sucky my life is right now? He called last Friday right after I found out that my uncle passed away due to COVID-19. Talk about triggers. I was done. I seriously did not know how I was going to survive anymore pondering the question ‘What else could go wrong?!’. Because, you know, I cannot view anything as a positive.

Both my psychiatrist and therapist suggested I create a schedule that way I am not dwelling on the negative thoughts. I am working on several of them now: One for rainy weekdays, one for sunny weekdays and one for weekends. I logically know this will help me. When I have things to do I can easily get out of my head. My negative thoughts do not stay away all day. They flutter in and out like a butterfly seeking just the right nectar. For the most part though I can tell them, my Inner Bitch, to shut up.

I am not really sure what the next few weeks or months will bring. I am sure I will be riding this rollercoaster for awhile, with a few contently lucid climbs, many spiraling downfalls and some corkscrews constantly circling my brain.

I just have to hold on for the ride and not let go.

2019, The Year and The Decade

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2019, I can’t say that I am not happy to see you go. I spent most of you in a chronic depressive state. Riding a roller coaster to the point of  my depression becoming cyclical but not quite bipolar. You taught me about self-harm, the urge to see myself in pain, to control something in my life, to feel some sort of emotion. You brought me death of someone close to me, death of my book and its publishing company. You made me lose myself again and again. You turned me into a weak being so unsure if my strength would ever return.

But, 2019, I can’t say all of you was bad. I did two book signings and with that made a good group of friends with other authors. One night together in May and we became so connected that we still chat almost daily. You gave me Princess, the sweetest rescue dog who has brought me so much solace and love. You sent me to California, albeit via a stressful project. I got to see the desert of southern CA including pieces of Joshua Tree National Park. You brought me to some beautiful trails in Vermont. I can definitely say I saw many beautiful things in nature this year.

And your decade, 2019. So much has occurred from 2010 to now. I went through my hardest, deepest episodes of depression. I almost had a son. I loved this boy from the moment I met him and there is still a piece of my heart that is his. You sent me to the short term psych ward in the hospital once again. A place that both scares me and helps me. You introduced me to EMDR therapy, a therapy that saved my life after the grief of having to return my boy to DCF due to my failing mental health. You rewarded me with a new job that gives me the opportunity to travel to places I have never been… Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and areas of California. You were the decade of my 30s, my decade of learning.

Now I need to turn my attention to 2020, and the decade that will be my 40s. I bid you farewell 2019. My aim will be to try not to look back. I am determined to make your successor the year of strength. I am not going to make excuses anymore and live in your shadow.

I woke up this morning a little giddy. Excited that you will be gone in less than 24 hours. That I can take my life back, take me back from the spiraling depression you put me in. I will return to the gym. I will eat correctly again (heck, I’ll eat again). I will take back what is rightfully mine. I will focus on my mental health, taking inventory of what I need and exploring other therapies, other medications. I will welcome 40 with open arms in February, living it up with friends and family (trying new craft beers, yum!). I will get back to my blog, back to True Crime Tuesdays, back to possibly republishing Rising From the Ashes.

And this decade coming up… there is so much that will happen. My baby girl will graduate middle school in 2020, high school in 2024 and most likely college all in the next ten years. There is a chance I will see her get married toward the end of the decade. There will be many more trips to see places & things I never have, like the redwoods of northern CA and the cheese state of Wisconsin. I will continue to write, focusing on the other books that have be swirling around in my head. Maybe I will become a peer specialist, just a plethora of possibilities.

There is so much that I can make happen, and for the first time in a long while, I am excited!

Adios 2019! Sayonara 2010-2019! Good-bye 30s!

Welcome 2020, my 40s, my time to bring me back!

“Reflection”

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When I used to look into the mirror,

I saw a happy, sunshine smile, confidence, compassion and empathy,

Colossal amounts of love, being loved, giving love,

I saw strength the trifecta; muscles, grin lines, intelligence,

And then it all drifted away on a stormy wind.

Now I see hatred with my bitch taking the lead,

On a chariot, riding fiercely with her friends, negativity and loathing,

I see the emptiness in my lack of emotion (laughing no more)

In my eyes that used to shine it’s grassy green hue (now forlorn),

I see my weakness’ growing in numbers,

They prevail over any good I once saw.

I see the scars, tiny slashes on my wrist,

The memory of the internal pain, guilt, and yes, some shame,

The urge rising to repeat the action,

The bitch yelling I deserve the agony, the suffering,

More scarlet droplets trailing down my arm,

And the repetitive thought of how much worse will it get.

The reflection I see, is not a happy one, not a sad one, it is a blank one,

One that feels nothing, embraces apathy,

I am not sure it will change, although I know it did before,

What was that? With pills, therapy and self care I’ll thrive?

Ha, I am doing all those and still nothing changes, fight no more.

With the bitch infinitely cackling, I now take on advice given many times:

Acceptance is key; I invite you in, on my sofa, to envelope me, for eternity.

© Stephanie Paige 11/26/19

Just An Unhealthy Fantasy

I was doing well. It had been over 2 months since I last cut myself. The mood stabilizer was working (thank you Lamictal!). All was good… until it wasn’t.

I should’ve known.

For some reason, I am not allowed to be stable for long periods of time. The last time I self harmed was Saturday, July 13th.

I am not even 100% sure why I did it. It was the first time in weeks that I acted out on my fantasies. These fantasies aren’t romantic, or frankly, happy. It is a constant thought in my head of me with any sharp object, lightly cutting the spot on my body of preference. When I feel sad, the visions are more abundant with the negative thoughts to back them up. I succumbed to them that Saturday evening as I sat with a case cutter and nicked my wrist (nowhere near my arteries). I am not going to lie, it felt good. It felt like a release of stress and tears I so desperately wanted to cry.

But why was I consistently fantasizing about self harming myself?

I attributed the latest episode to a culmination of this delusional thought that I would be laid off and with my daughter leaving for a 2 week vacation in Alaska with my parents soon. At this time, she was crying non-stop about not wanting to go, about the long plane flights, and about missing her father and I. I was stoic in front of her but crying inside. I needed to let my pain out. And so, I cut.

The fantasies still persist.

My daughter left last Sunday. With her away, I have been down and empty, two emotions that feed the depression beast inside of me. I’ve welled up with tears the last few days about how much I miss her and need her with me. It took her going on vacation to make me realize how much I counted on her as a strength for me. My husband, yes is a huge strength, but he isn’t as compassionate and empathetic as my daughter. Once I realized that I relied on her so much, a 12-year-old girl, I felt more shitty. Negative thoughts have been spewing in my brain since then.

On top of my daughter being away, the delusion about being laid off is as strong as ever. Everything that does or doesn’t happen at work I take as a sign that feeds this delusion. I didn’t get a new location to work on… well I must be getting laid off. I am not invited to go see my location that is opening next week… see, getting laid off. It’s August (layoffs happen in February and August), just tell me now.

Stephanie, why couldn’t you be better at your job?! And, on the flip side, if it does happen, what did I do wrong?!

And now, I fantasize about cutting… ALL. THE. TIME.

To take away the pain. To solidify every negative thought in my head. To relieve the tears I can’t physically expel. So many reasons.

But I have remained strong and have not acted on it. And I hope that it remains that way, just an unhealthy fantasy…

*Disclaimer: I am under the watchful eye of both my psychiatrist and therapist. If you are self-harming or considering, please reach out to someone. There is always help. Text CONNECT to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Or call the Self Harm Hotline at 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8388)*