Gay Teens and Suicide Prevention

Apathetic looking teenSeth Walsh, age 13, Asher Brown, 13, Billy Lucas, 15, Tyler Clementi, 18, and Raymond Chase, 19, all died within the last three weeks as a result of suicide. All of them were bullied or harassed for being perceived as gay. And these are just the names that we know. There are many others out there suffering and struggling through the discovery of their sexuality.

Every day, gay teens or teens who are perceived by their peers as being “outside the box”( in terms of gender or sexuality) are bullied and harassed for simply being who they are. This bullying can come from fellow students but there are also negative messages from families, teachers, television, books, and social policy that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, is not acceptable and that it is okay to treat these teens with intolerance, violence and hatred.

For teens who are going through this discrimination there can be feelings of hopelessness and fear that inhibit their ability to develop a sense of self-esteem. With friends, family, the media and even teachers sending out a message of intolerance, these teens can face feelings of overwhelming isolation and loneliness.

This isolation can lead to thoughts of suicide and some of the signs to be aware of include:

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • Current talk of suicide or making a plan
  • Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with death
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Hinting at not being around in the future

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the classic signs to watch for. The more signs you see, the greater the risk.

This risk is very real for teens who feel isolated by their sexuality and unable to find role models or mentors who will listen to their pain and confusion.  In most schools there is a message that being straight is okay and that any other feelings or attractions are out of the norm and not to be tolerated.  This leaves questioning teens with very few outlets to explore their new feelings and identity.

So what can we do to help teens who might be facing these circumstances? First, be there with an open heart and mind to let them know that there is a safe place where they can talk about their feelings and what is going on in their lives. Talking about suicide is not easy but it is an important conversation to have if you start to notice signs that a teen in your life might be contemplating it as an option.

Let teens know that whether they are gay, bisexual, transgender, or straight it has nothing to do with whether they are good people or not. Sexuality has nothing to do with their ability to lead an amazing, creative, and productive life that is full of love, satisfaction and security.

If it’s hard for you to hold this conversation with a teen, get outside help. There are many professionals out there who specialize in working with teens and they can assist in opening up a safe discussion about what is going on and how to make it through the scary parts of life.

It is time to stop pretending that the bullying and harassment of gay teens is not a real problem. Its seriousness can result in silent suffering so extreme that it leads to the belief that death is the only solution. One teen committing suicide is too many. By being aware, educated, open and caring we can make a difference.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • NAN

    NAN

    October 22nd, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    I agree that this is complteely unacceptable. Get over it people- who cares what someone’s sexual orientation is if they are a good person? This is so sick that these young lives were lost all because someone else did not agree with whom they chose to date or to love. It really does make me sick to think there are still people suffering for this. How many lives do we have to lse before we realize just how marrow minded this kind of thinking is?

  • Hollis

    Hollis

    October 23rd, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    I see so many kids who are not encouraged to think outside of that proverbial box and they have such a tendency to then harass the kids who do. I am like everyone else who wants to shout to the sky that this has to stop. These are kids, who may or may not really know how they want to live out the rest of their lives, but they need to be given the space and the freedom to get to know themselves and explore their options without feeling so caged in that suicide is the only viable choice for them. To hear of anyone losing a life can be devastating but I find it even more so when it is these young lives that are cut much too short way too soon.

  • nathan

    nathan

    October 24th, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    we have the necessary rules and laws but what is need is a change in people’s perception.but this is something that cannot be done over night.it takes time and a little effort in the form of some important people pledging their support to the gay movement.

  • Jordyn

    Jordyn

    October 25th, 2010 at 4:52 AM

    What really galls me is that there are people who actually do not see this kind of behavior as a problem. They think well these kids would have probably ended their lives anyway so this is not something that can be stopped. Really? Do they really think that had these kids not been bullied to death that their lives could have turned out completely different? I am not saying that it would not have happened- that is not for us to second guess. But my point is that we all need to be given the chance to live and live life to the fullest and what these kids had to experience before they died was not the opportunity to do that. It filled them with anger and rage and fear and that age what do you know about dealing with that in any other way other than trying to rid your life of it? We have to get the message out that yes, the loss of one life in this way is too many, because look at how many other lives are affected due to the actions of one.

  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    October 26th, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    The “It Gets Better” campaign has a great msg, but we need to couple that with “How We Can Make It Better Now”. It’s hard enough to think something will not be a problem in a few months. Asking a teenager to hold on for years can seem like mission: impossible.

    Parents need to look out for signs their child is being bullied, as well as talk to them specifically about it. It’s equally important to see if their child might BE the bully. Not always a comfortable discussion, but it has to be done.

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