LGBTQ Suicide Prevention Lecture
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 22:12
Although a heavy topic for the lunchtime lecture, Wes Nemenz’s talk titled “The Trevor Project – Connect. Accept. Respond. Empower. How to Support LGBTQ Youth and Prevent LGBTQ Youth Suicide” on Thursday afternoon in the Rainbow Center, showed a hopeful outlook on to how we can target suicidal thoughts in LGBTQ youths and how we can get them the help they need.
The Trevor Project began in 1998 after a documentary titled “Trevor,” a story that followed a 13 year old LGBTQ teen that was struggling with suicidal thoughts, aired on HBO. The producers of the documentary saw this lack of outlets for teens in Trevor’s position and chose to take matters into their own hands, thus forming what is today known as The Trevor Project, which is now “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ youth and young adult community,” said Nemenz.
The Trevor Project provides a number of different outlets to LGBTQ youths and young adults such as The Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7, 365 days a year hotline for immediate and high intensity crisis calls, where trained counselors are only a telephone call away from providing support. This is also available to parents as well as adults who are looking for resources to help someone they know. Another resource is called askTrevor. “This is what I like to call the ‘Dear Abby’ aspect of the program,” laughed Nemenz.“This is not for immediate crisis, but more of a way to ask questions and learn about resources.” TrevorSpace is an online community that allows teens ages 13 to 24 to have profiles that are safe and user-friendly. They can interact with one another providing support and friendships. “They are super positive, and supportive, beautiful angels,” Nemenz says of the young adults in the online community. Finally, TrevorChat works as an online messaging service that is both safe and confidential. It provides youths with help over non-suicide related crisis over The Trevor Project’s website. The Trevor Project also boasts educational programs that travel to middle schools, high schools and universities alike, giving similar lectures that open up a conversation among students about suicide and its intersections with sexual orientation and gender identity.
During the lecture, Nemenz asked the audience to take part in a powerful activity that he called “Top 10 Things.” He asked the group to write down the top ten things that make us get out of bed every morning, big or small. Once we each had our lists, he then asked us to eliminate three things off them. Then to look at what we had left. Next, we had to remove three more reasons off the list. Finally, we had to leave ourselves with just one reason why we got out of bed each day. The audience as a whole found this task very difficult.
“How can I decide,” commented one audience member, “between my husband and my kids? I just can’t do that. It’s too hard.” “I have only my wife left,” commented another audience member, “I love her, but without everything else it still seems somewhat empty – kind of sad.”
Nemenz related these feelings that we all had, being torn, pressured, sad about our perceived losses and compared them to how an LGBTQ teen would feel when contemplating “coming out” about their sexuality. Perceived loss is just as powerful when thinking about it as actual loss, and these losses such as family and friends, are things these LGBTQ teens actually fear losing when coming out about their sexuality. Empathy was Nemenz’s key word. “We need to turn on the empathy full blast when working with people that are having these feelings,” he said.
Next, Nemenz went on to discuss the risk factors involved with suicide. Chronic risk factors (i.e. psychological and emotional states) factors that increase over one’s lifetime and acute risk factors (i.e. owning a firearm), risk factors associated with greater risk in the near term, both play a role within the contemplation of suicide. Protective factors are what keep people from making the decision to commit suicide. Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth and young adults experience many of these factors at once: family crisis, loss of a loved one, academic crisis and victimization are just some of the risk factors these teens deal with when coming out. Gender non conforming, coming out issues, rejection when coming out, gay-related victimization and unique developmental stressors such as puberty, dating or playing the role as “educator” about being LGBTQ in one’s community, can all play roles as risk factors as well.
Nemenz ended his talk by teaching the audience the warning signs of suicide- signs of depression, having a plan and means to carry out the plan, and increased alcohol or drug use, to name a few – and leaving us with some thoughts to consider about how we can help. “Validating is the most powerful tool,” said Nemenz. All it takes is having someone there to listen and understand. Nemenz urged that there is no need to stigmatize against people who are feeling sad and depressed, everyone has felt this way or has had reason to feel this way at least once. “Suicide is not caused by just a single factor or reason,” said Nemenz, “it is more complex than this.” Lending a caring ear and simply checking up and talking with someone you know is struggling can make all the difference. “Don’t be afraid to be that person,” Nemenz said, “who talks about suicide directly.” If you have a concern, express it and listen to what they have to say. This is the best possible way to find them the resources and the help they need. “One supportive adult in a youth’s environment can reduce their risk of suicide by 30 percent,” Nemenz concluded.
If you have any questions or want to learn further about The Trevor Project and the resources that it has to offer, contact Wes Nemenz at Wes.Nemenz@TheTrevorProject.org