It’s National Suicide Prevention Week — an annual week-long campaign to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide. One of the biggest risks of suicide is being LGBTQ. If someone is also a member of another marginalized group — a person of color, disabled — it can put them at even greater risk.
We don’t talk about suicide enough in the U.S. Yet suicide is on the rise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide deaths have been rising in recent years, up from 48,183 deaths in 2021 to an estimated 49,449 deaths in 2022. For every completed suicide, there are at least 10 attempted suicides, making it a national crisis.
On Aug. 10, when the CDC released the latest statistics on suicide deaths in a new report, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement, “Nine in ten Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. The new suicide death data reported by CDC illustrates why. One life lost to suicide is one too many. Yet, too many people still believe asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
Becerra said, “The Biden-Harris Administration is making unprecedented investments to transform how mental health is understood, accessed and treated as part of President Biden’s Unity Agenda. We must continue to eliminate the stigmatization of mental health and make care available to all Americans.”
But what we know most definitively is that people are not getting that help. CDC’s Chief Medical Officer Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H. said, “The troubling increase in suicides requires immediate action across our society to address the staggering loss of life from tragedies that are preventable. Everyone can play a role in efforts to save lives and reverse the rise in suicide deaths.”
The Trevor Project has long offered such help to LGBTQ people through chat rooms, Trevor Space and online counseling. In operation for more than 25 years, Trevor Project’s mission is “to end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people” and notes that “LGBTQ young people are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and suicide remains the second leading cause of death among all young people in the U.S.”
The Trevor Project’s most recent survey in May 2022 found rising rates of suicidal thoughts, as well as significant disparities among trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. Transgender and nonbinary youth have considered suicide at higher rates than other LGBTQ youth. Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the organization said, “The Trevor Project’s research demonstrates that suicidal thoughts have trended upward among LGBTQ young people over the last three years, making our life-saving work all the more important.”
The Trevor Project findings are alarming: 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers.
In addition, 60% of youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it.
Compounding these issues, more than 60% of LGBTQ youth reported their home was not affirming and nearly 2 in 5 reported living in a community that is unaccepting of LGBTQ people. But Trevor Project found that those who do have support in these places report much lower suicide risk.
Trevor Project has “direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to support via phone, text, and chat” as well as peer support via “the world’s largest, safe-space social networking community.”
While Trevor Project’s work and research has drawn attention to the suicidal ideation crisis among LGBTQ youth, there is a hidden crisis among middle-aged Americans. According to SAMHSA, the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the age group most at risk for suicide is middle-aged people, especially men, who have the highest rate of suicide compared to other groups. Eighty percent of all deaths by suicide in the U.S. are among men and women age 45 to 54.
SAMHSA cites adults over 45, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, LGBTQ people and veterans as the most at-risk groups in the U.S. SAMHSA says, “Like other oppressed communities, LGBTQI+ communities are disproportionately at risk for suicide and other mental health struggles due to historic and ongoing structural violence.”
SAMHSA offers a series of steps for LGBTQ people to take to reduce risk, seek help and have a plan for bouts of depression and/or suicidal ideation.
Suicide in this middle-aged group has other defining factors, with gender at the core. Women are more prone to depression and suicidal ideation than men and attempt suicide more often, but men complete suicide four times more often than women, according to the most recent CDC data in May. More than 38,000 men died by suicide in 2021, the highest number and rate of deaths in 20 years.
Thirty-seven percent of women have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetimes, compared to 20 percent of men, and those rates are rising, according to Gallup survey data released in May. But in a nation with more guns than people, guns are a primary option chosen for suicide by all genders, but men use firearms most, leading to the higher rate of completed suicides. A person who attempts suicide with a gun is many times more likely to die than someone who uses another method, such as pills or self-inflicted cuts. Firearms cause more than half of deaths by suicide.
Studies show many who attempt suicide are conflicted and unsure about that choice, but mental health professionals say accessible weapons make suicide easier — and more deadly. Between 2015 and 2020, federal data shows 122,178 men died of suicide by firearm, compared to 19,297 women.
Suffocation, which is the second most common method of suicide, killed 59,382 men and 17,088 women in those years. Suffocation refers to death by hanging, or by covering the head to cut off the supply of air. Recently, celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade committed suicide by hanging.
Drug poisoning is the third most common form of suicide and more prevalent among women (16,678 deaths) than men (12,641).
Women are twice as likely as men to seek mental health treatment, according to federal data. But the percentage who had received any mental health treatment was highest among non-Hispanic white adults — meaning people of color are not receiving enough treatment.
The CDC states that “Suicide and suicide attempts are serious public health challenges. Suicide and suicidal behavior are influenced by negative conditions in which people live, play, work, and learn. Some groups experience more negative conditions or factors related to suicide — sexual and gender minorities, middle-aged adults, people of color, and tribal populations.”
CDC adds, “Addressing these negative conditions and factors can help prevent suicide and suicide attempts.”
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline suggest five steps to help safeguard people from the risk of suicide and support them when in crisis:
1. Ask: Asking and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
2. Help keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention.
3. Be there: Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.
4. Help them connect: Individuals that called the 988 Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful by the end of calls.
5. Follow up: After you’ve connected a person experiencing thoughts of suicide with the immediate support systems they need, following-up with them to see how they’re doing can help increase their feelings of connectedness and support. There’s evidence that even a simple form of reaching out can potentially reduce that person’s risk for suicide.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said with the release of last month’s CDC statistical report, “Mental health has become the defining public health and societal challenge of our time. Far too many people and their families are suffering and feeling alone,”
Murthy said, “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another. If you or a loved one are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please know that your life matters and that you are not alone.”
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, you can call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Project hotline at 1-866-488-7386. All three are available 24/7.
Story courtesy of Philadelphia Gay News via the National LGBTQ Media Association. The National LGBTQ Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: https://nationallgbtmediaassociation.com/