As with all communities, there are special concerns for the LGBTQI community when it comes to suicide prevention. While times have certainly changed over the last few decades, discrimination still exists and can cause feelings of isolation and hopelessness, which are a major contributors to feelings of suicide. Recent studies have shown higher rates of suicide attempts and completions within the LGBTQI community, believed to be related to the history of oppression of LGBTQI individuals.
If you are a member of the LGBTQI community and have struggled with depression, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. We care about you deeply, and help and support is available to you 24/7 through our Crisis Line (415/781-0500).
If you are interested in learning more about the unique stress factors related to suicide within the LGBTQI community, or would like to schedule suicide prevention presentations for LGBTQI youth, adults, or staff members, please contact the Youth and Outreach Manager, Sivan Adato at SivanA@sfsuicide.org.
Fear of Coming Out
Many adolescents and even adults fear expressing their true sexual orientation or gender identity, mainly because of assumptions of how family, friends and religious communities will react. Hiding one’s true feelings and identity can cause feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Even for some who are mostly “out”, they still feel the need to remain closeted in other aspects of their lives like at work, or to certain family members. Whether young or old, the fear of losing familial support is ever present, especially in cultures where preserving “face” is of utmost importance, or cultures where same sex relations are less accepted.
Teens in particular have additional challenges when it comes to exploring and expressing sexual identity. Many LGBTQI teens fear “being outed,” as well as being taunted, threatened, and harassed online by peers, often known as cyber-bullying.
Recently, bullying in schools has received a lot of attention in the media, and for good reason: bullying is a form of abuse. Abuse almost always causes feelings of depression and hopelessness that can lead to suicidal feelings. And abuse comes in larger forms, too. When leading political figures, media figures, or world religions attack the LGBTQI community, it can lead to feelings of depression among LGBTQI individuals. This oppression can lead to a decline in self-esteem and self-worth. For teens, coming out or being outed may create a real fear of being “gay bashed,” physically and sexually assaulted, and becoming victims of hate crimes.
Many in the LGBTQI community face sudden rejection when they come out. Friends and family may reject them, at least at first. Some experience virtually complete loss in their life, when all their friends and family reject their identity. Of course this can leave tremendous emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Many in the community experience a sudden rejection in the work place or decline in social status when they reveal their sexual orientation, often learning first-hand what it means to be perceived as “different.”
Many in the LGBTQI community feel isolated for many reasons. Part of this has to do with the potential for rejection. Many people that come out and are rejected at home end up moving to new cities, where they have very limited social support and resources. And sometimes, the LGBTQI community itself can feel cliquey to many, or hard to fit-in to as a whole. Exposure to stereotypes of “gay culture” can also create feelings of isolation, even for those within the LGBTQI community.
Domestic violence is a very real issue that affects all kinds of relationships, not just heterosexual ones. Same-sex domestic violence often goes largely ignored by social service, criminal justice, and medical care providers. The needs of same-sex partner violence victims have historically been minimized and met with homophobic responses. This can cause survivors of LGBTQI domestic violence to live in isolation, often continuing to endure emotional, psychological, and physical abuse in silence. Like victims in heterosexual relationships, victims of same-sex partner violence may fear leaving the perpetrator for any number of reasons, especially safety. This may be complicated if a victim is “closeted,” undocumented, or has otherwise experienced social oppression, as the victim may feel “stuck” or threatened by the potential repercussions of leaving an abusive partner.
Health Status and HIV
In San Francisco, HIV may exist within an number of communities. Although individuals living with HIV today are able to live completely normal lives, acquiring HIV/AIDS (or any disease for that matter) may lead to social isolation. For some, a downward spiral in one’s medical status is enough to cause one to retreat from previously enjoyed activities. Simply feeling worn out by the physical and mental stress of illness can cause one to consider ending one’s pain.
Rejection by family, friends, coworkers or partners can also be felt due to the stigma surrounding HIV or illness. Often times, it is this fear of rejection and lack of emotional support that prevents people from seeking the necessary services that may be available in the community.
Grief is our emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and spiritual response to a significant loss. We may experience grief for any number of reasons, like if a close friend dies, if we learn that a close friend or partner has a serious illness, or if we end an important relationship. Within the LGBTQI, HIV, and other historically oppressed communities, individuals may also experience a profound sadness at the long-standing realities of discrimination. We may feel despondent and turn inward, or we may turn to others to share our experiences. It is important to remember that grieving is normal and an important part of our lives– there is always hope for the future.
San Francisco offers a number of grief services. Learn more.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
The LGBTQI community does have a high number of people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. For any depressed person, adding alcohol and drugs creates a difficult downward spiral and can lead to severe negative emotions and behaviors.
San Francisco Suicide Prevention is about gay-friendly as it gets! We were founded by a gay man, and we have always had a high number of LGBTQ staff, volunteers and Board members. We have been here for the community for nearly 50 years.
If you or a friend are feeling depressed, our staff and volunteers are here to help. Another great resource, especially for LGBTQI youth is the Trevor Project. And we always need volunteers to help on our programs.
San Francisco Suicide Prevention’s LGBTQI Outreach program is supported by Grass Roots Gay Rights West, producers of REAL BAD.
As part of that grant, SFSP conducted the attached research on San Francisco’s LGBTQI community. The research will give you a lot more information about feelings and attitudes within the LGBTQI community (February 2011).
LGBTQI Student Resources and Support: This document includes common hardships, scholarships, and support.