Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, says the Trevor Project. #LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts than non-LGBTQ+ people. According to the Trevor Project, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. For transgender youth, one in three respondents to a study by the Trevor Project reported attempting suicide.
LGBTQ+ individuals are more prone to suicidal thoughts due to the struggles they face on a daily basis, says Doug Delahanty, professor of psychological science and associate vice president for research faculty development at #Kent State.
Delahanty’s research has shown that certain factors increase the risk of trauma, substance abuse and mental illnesses in LGBTQ+ people. He found that this can be due to stigma and having less support from family and friends. If these individuals don’t seek help, it can take a toll on them and result in experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Ken Ditlevson, the director of the LGBTQ+ Center at Kent State, shared his story about how he faced difficulties with his sexuality and mental health as a teenager.
“In high school, I was deeply suicidal and wanted to end my life,” he says. “I knew something was different about me and I really struggled with that.”
Ditlevson says he had been contemplating suicide for many months. Three days before his planned attempt, he reached out to his guidance counselor, who provided him with resources. One of those resources was an LGBT center in Cleveland, he says. He ended up participating in a social group where he found people who were like him.
“This was truly a life-changing moment for me,” Ditlevson says.
He made friends and felt more comfortable. After high school, Ditlevson came out and began a new life.
Many researchers study suicidal behavior so that there is more public awareness about the signs of suicide. One person who has done much research on this topic is Jason McGlothlin, associate professor in the counselor education supervision department at Kent State. He developed a model for suicide assessment based on research that involved over 80,000 callers to suicide prevention hotlines, McGlothlin says. The method he uses is called the SIMPLE STEPS model.
“It’s an acronym that represents the kinds of things we look out for when it comes to a suicidal individual,” McGlothlin says.
The SIMPLE STEPS model is a method that clinicians use to assess individuals who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, he says. Friends or family of an individual who may be showing signs can use this model as well.
S: The word “suicide” itself. If someone is casually talking or even joking about suicide, that’s a concern, McGlothlin says.
I: “Ideation” is when an individual is thinking about taking their own life. This entails passive or active ideation. Passive ideation is when someone has thoughts about suicide but no intention to take action on it. Active ideation is when they have thoughts of suicide and a detailed plan to take action.
M: The “method” that they would use to take their own life or their plan for how they would do it.
P: “Perturbation” is the degree of emotional pain someone is experiencing.
“Oftentimes individuals express that they are ‘more depressed than depressed’ or ‘more anxious than anxious,’” McGlothlin says. Someone could be depressed, but they may feel that ‘depressed’ doesn’t truly cover the extent of the emotional pain they are feeling. This can also be described as psychache.
L: Perceived or actual “loss.” An example of actual loss could be if someone’s parents were getting a divorce or if a loved one had died. Perceived loss could be someone anticipating that their parents are going to get a divorce or that someone in their family might die. Individuals of the LGBTQ+ community might experience loss of relationships with family or friends due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Most importantly, they may experience loss of themselves or who they once were before coming out, McGlothlin says.
E: “Earlier attempts” are important to remember. If an individual has previously attempted suicide, the way they did it and what happened after the attempt can provide insight into their current emotional state.
S: An increase in “substance abuse” raises concern.
T: These individuals have a lack of “troubleshooting” abilities. They have tried many thingsto improve their mental health, but they might perceive suicide to be their only option. These are individuals who develop learned helplessness, which is a learned state of feeling that nothing you do can improve your position in life.
E: Common “emotions” among individuals with suicidal thoughts include helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness, depression, anxiety and agitation.
“These are emotions that we want to look for because they almost always play a role,” McGlothlin says.
P: “Protective factors” are factors that help lessen the risk of suicide. Individuals with less protective factors have a higher risk of attempting suicide. When they come out, LGBTQ+ individuals might feel as if their world is crumbling and they are losing family, friends or other support. Therefore, they may not have protective factors, McGlothlin says.
S: These individuals could be facing multiple “stressors.” Everyone has stress, but when it comes to suicide, it’s the accumulation of largely perceived stressors that impacts people, McGlothlin says. Some stressors LGBTQ+ individuals could have include losing support from family or dealing with the anxiety of coming out.
“The reality is that suicide is never really just one thing, it is (an) accumulation of many different things,” McGlothlin says.
He also suggests that if you feel that someone you know is suicidal, ask them how they are doing.
“We have found that there is a myth that if you ask someone if they are suicidal, it will make them suicidal, but that is not the case,” McGlothlin says. “Be straightforward because it’s better to talk to someone about their issues than attend a funeral.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a national network that offers free and confidential support to those experiencing a suicidal crisis. The Trevor Project offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention through its hotline, chat/text feature and online support center. You can reach the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 at any time, or text START to 678-678 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. TrevorCHAT is an instant messaging service available from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
The LGBTQ+ Center offers support groups such as Q’ommunity and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC). Q’ommunity is an open group for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, including those who are questioning. QTPOC is a closed group for queer and trans people of color. Kent State also offers resources through DeWeese Health Center and Kent State Psychological Services.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a suicidal crisis, help is always available.