Teens are in a tender stage in life, especially those who are struggling with their sexuality. It makes it particularly difficult for adolescents who come from conservative cultures and who have to hide sexual preferences that are outside of societal acceptance.
LGBT Teens and Suicide
One young adult, now in college in Los Angeles, moved from his hometown in Tennessee. He played a significant role in his church. He continues to share with his current friends how tough it was growing up in a religious environment where homosexuality was looked down upon and where he felt like an outcast. During many rough moments in his adolescence, he contemplated taking his life and attempted suicide with overdosing on pain medication, thinking that there was nowhere he belonged. His spiritual upbringing seemed to point to the non-acceptance of who he was. There was no one that got his growing sense of self and he forever felt the need to hide who he was. Furthermore, because of his flamboyant personality and style, he often got bullied at school. Eventually, he decided to share his struggle with his parents, but sadly, both parents also expressed rejection, which led to another suicide attempt. Although he made it through high school, those experiences have left a difficult mark on his psychological development. Even today, after being away from home for just over a year, he continues to struggle with both his homosexuality alongside his strong religious upbringing and beliefs.
Yet, it’s not just a religious background that can create the circumstances for a LBGT teen to contemplate suicide. It can happen in any culture that is predominantly heterosexual and judgmental towards those who aren’t. Of course, it’s not just homosexuality that gets judged, but any nonconforming sexual or gender preference, such as bisexual, trans-sexual, cross-dressing, and transgender teens. Fortunately, more and more individuals, whom teens tend to admire, such as athletes, actors, writers, and other celebrities are coming out with their sexual preference.
In Need of a Safe Space
LGBT teens are not only judged but they are made the target for bullying which can also drive an adolescent to suicide. LGBT teens are more at risk for suicide than other teens. LBGT teens are 2-5 times more likely to attempt suicide. Furthermore, there are two factors that make LGBT teens more vulnerable to suicide. Like in the case of the gay man described above, the first of these is lack of parental support. Without the support of one’s family, teens feel that they have nowhere else to turn. Parental support usually acts as a safeguard for the rejection teens will likely get from the outside world. Rejection from parents is the number one contributor to a suicide attempt. Learn more about suicide and teen depression treatment and what parents can do to help.
The second factor is school bullying. According to Emily Bazelon’s book, Sticks and Stones, 85-90% of LGBT youth have been verbally harassed, 40% have been physically harassed, and 20% have been physically assaulted. Bullied teens are up to five more times likely to commit suicide.
As a parent or caregiver, although you may not agree with the sexual orientation of your teen, you can still stand by his or her side and keep them safe and alive! There are a number of ways you can do this.
- Educate yourself, including learning something simple like the fact that LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.
- Go to the LGBT annual parade with your teen, which is a way to discover that the LGBT community is regular people, like everyone else.
- Join an LGBT support group for parents, such as PFLAG – Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays –, which is one of the largest communities of support for the LGBT population. They have local chapters to develop relationships with other LGBT parents and supporters of LGBT youth.
- Research the local, state, and federal laws for homosexual, transgender, and trans-sexual individuals.
- Participate in family therapy to work through family concerns and strengthen relationships. All members of the family can participate in therapy, not just you and your adolescent.
- Don’t make your child’s sexual or gender preference the center of your family life. Remember that sexual orientation is not all there is to enjoying life and having fulfilling and meaningful relationships.
Bazelon, E. (2013). Sticks and stones: Defeating the culture of bullying and rediscovering the power of character and empathy. New York, NY: Random House.