Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey. A 2007 San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute study shows that LGBT and questioning youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey). Here are steps you can take to help a suicidal friend:
Lend an ear. Make a call. Loneliness. Isolation. Fear. Regret. Rejection. These are common feelings a suicidal friend may be experiencing, especially after coming out. Name calling and bullying in school, at home or in the community can amplify these feelings, leading to depression and sometimes suicide.
Lend an unconditional ear. Encourage your friend to share their feelings with you and one of the free LGBT-focused hotlines. The Trevor Project and the GLBT National Help Center provide free and confidential counseling
Their feelings are real. Don’t take that away from them. Your friend may not be able to communicate how severe their depression is or how far the name calling, bullying or harassment have gone. Check in often and stay alert. Sometimes our tendency as loved ones and friends is to dismiss attempts at reaching out as inconsequential. Be understanding without being judgmental. Take action and take no concern for granted. Even if your friend’s thoughts, fears or feelings seem dramatic or unrealistic, understand that these issues are very real for them—real enough for them to consider taking their own life.
Don’t avoid the topic. Avoidance isn’t what your friend needs right now. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Ask them if they are considering taking their life. Ask if they’ve made a plan (this will help you gauge the seriousness of their intentions). Their intent may still be there even without an initial plan.
Avoid the common myth that if they really wanted to die they would’ve already done so. Your friend needs help and any thoughts, plans or failed attempts on their life should be taken seriously. Death is final. Remind them of that and encourage them to stick it out. For tips on support call Affirmations, Michigan’s LGBT community center at 1-800-398-GAYS]
Make a plan. Sit with your friend and create a plan of action to help them cope with or improve their situation. Write down the issues and come up with plausible short-term and long-term solutions. Develop alternatives together and help him or her see them out.
Remove the tools. Remove any dangerous items from your friend’s home. You know your friend and their habits and maybe some of their secrets. Is there a gun in the house or do their parents keep a knife collection? What about chemicals or pills? Try and remove any items that may be used to attempt suicide.
Tell an adult. Reach out to a professional. Unfortunately, now isn’t the time for a pact of secrecy. Don’t promise not to tell anyone. Find a trusted adult that can help you help them. If your friend is considering suicide because of issues with their parents, it may not be best to solicit their help. Try your parents, adult siblings or a trusted community or education professional. You can also solicit the help of your local LGBT community center (Affirmations, 1-800-398-GAYS or www.goaffirmations.org) or a gay-affirmative therapist. Be persistent in your search for help.
Seek emergency help. In emergency situations where you aren’t able to help your friend and you believe they are going to commit suicide despite the steps taken above, stay with them and call 911 immediately.
Contributed by Dr. Fran Brown, Ltd. Licensed Psychologist; Wentworth and Associates, PC. Reprinted with permission from Ramon Johnson, Gay Life Guide, www.about.com
If you are in crisis please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone 24/7.