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 Op-ed: Our Role in Stopping a Suicide Crisis

 Op-ed: Our Role in Stopping a Suicide Crisis


Today we celebrate Spirit Day, donning purple to show our spirit and support for LGBT youth who have endured bullying, and supporting the families and communities that have lost young people to suicide. We all recognize the benefit from showcasing the health crisis of disproportionate rates of suicide and incidences of bullying that affect LGBT young people. The highest levels of government are now paying attention, and there is a movement in this country to change our culture and improve environments for all youth. Without knowing it, however, this tactic has also increased suicide risk.

Because we know the risk, we have a responsibility to change our tactics -- without losing momentum.

Communicating about this crisis is complicated because the reasons a person attempts suicide are also complicated. Even talking about specific suicides online and in the media can encourage more deaths.

That's not to say the unnecessary death of a young person in our community should go unnoticed. Whenever a young person dies by suicide, it is an absolute tragedy because, at its core, we know it could have been prevented. It is important to grieve and also to do something that changes whatever environment made it possible.

But there are ways of talking about suicide that could increase the likelihood of other at-risk people attempting to take their own lives. This is because suicide is closely tied to psychological well-being.

When we draw direct lines from sexual orientation or bullying to suicide, it can influence someone who is at-risk to assume that taking your own life is what you're supposed to do next if you are LGBT or bullied. This may not seem rational, but attempting to take your own life is an irrational act.

As a caring community, we can help avoid making suicide appear like a logical choice by putting distance between statements or stories describing instances of bullying and instances of suicide.

Another factor that increases risk is suicide contagion - the link between media reports and a person's decision to attempt suicide. In other words, the more a story of a particular victim is out there, the more likely one or more people who are at-risk will also attempt suicide. The recent tragedy in Ottawa appears to have occurred as a combination of compromised psychological well-being influenced by factors of contagion. That the young person was also the victim of anti-LGBT bullying made a bad situation even worse.

From the thousands of calls taken by the Trevor Lifeline every year, we know our youth are at the center of a health crisis. Suicide attempts happen at disproportionately higher rates among LGBT people than any other demographic. Our youth are more likely to be victimized, more likely to be bullied, and more likely to be rejected by their parents, peers and religious institutions. Because of this rejection, they are less likely to have access to help and care, and may even have reason to fear reaching out for help. We need to address this crisis, and The Trevor Project is working to get to the root causes of the problem.

Spirit Day is one way to show that you want to get behind solving the problem of bullying and, in the process, help solve the health crisis of LGBT youth who are attempting suicide. That means wrapping our arms around bullying and cyberbullying, which can have very harmful effects on a person's psychological well-being, and taking steps to support youth in crisis. Some of the best ways to do this are surprisingly easy.

* Wear purple: Signal to a young LGBT person that you support them.

* Tweet and post: Share with your friends and followers that you support #SpiritDay.

* Learn to C.A.R.E.: When you Connect, Accept, Respond and Empower a young person in crisis, you can help save a life.

* Contact your Member of Congress: Tell them that LGBT youth in their district are experiencing a health crisis, and we need their support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.

As a community that cares, we can make a difference and stop this health crisis affecting LGBT youth. With the support of our highest elected officials, and the millions of people who want to make a difference, we can enact the sea-change necessary to save the lives of youth in crisis. Participating in Spirit Day is one step to doing that. There is a lot more to be done after today,and we invite you to get involved at

DAVID McFARLAND is the interim executive director and CEO for The Trevor Project. If you or a young person you know is LGBT and thinking about suicide, call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. For adults over 24, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-866-273-8255.

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