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
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
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.
· 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
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 TheTrevorProject.org.
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.