I have to hand it to the folks at The New York Times. Over the last couple of weeks, the paper has featured several stories on the importance of mental health. Yesterday I blogged about a story appearing on the front page of the Sunday Times. I then discovered the paper had devoted space on their website to the challenges many American youth face when "coming out."
This most recent story comes on the heals of a wave of teenage suicides within the LGBT community. According to the Family Acceptance Project LGBT-youth are at considerably higher rates for attempting suicide than their straight peers. Furthermore, such youth report higher rates of verbal abuse, physical assault, and peer rejection. Such victimization is widely known to be positively correlated with negative mental health outcomes such as increased risk for depression, suicide, and substance abuse.
Organizations like The Trevor Project have worked hard to bring national attention to this epidemic. Founded in 1998, The Trevor Project's mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and affirming resources, such as a 24/7 crisis intervention hotline, where youth can receive immediate support.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in a program co-sponsored by the District of Columbia's Department of Mental Health and The Trevor Project in which mental health workers throughout the city were invited to discuss the challenges of reaching our city's LGBT youth community. While participating, I learned that although suicide is the third leading cause of death among American youth (ages 15-24), LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
In my practice I've counseled young people at various stages of the coming out process. There are two things I have learned from this work. First, coming out is a dynamic and ongoing process that is unique to every individual. Second, the process almost always involves some fear (whether real or perceived) that doing so will result in rejection by family and friends. When a young person is ready to take that important step, having the support of family, peers, teachers, and other members of the community is vital. Sadly, for too many youth such social support is often lacking. Groups like the Trevor Project exist for this very reason, often serving as a life line during this critical developmental juncture.
For those interested in learning more about LGBTQ youth and suicide, visit The Trevor Project's website where they have provided a wealth of valuable information.
Tyger Latham, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC. He counsels individuals and couples and has a particular interest in sexual trauma, gender development, and LGBT concerns. His blog, Therapy Matters, explores the art and science of psychotherapy.