Well-Being Mental Health

The ‘S’ word: LGBTQ+ advocates take on stigma of suicide

A young unhappy girl sits and hugs her knees and a human hand reaches out to her

If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or suicide, you can reach the Trevor Lifeline, a free and confidential service that offers trained counselors 24/7, at 1-866-488-7386.

For LGBTQ+ youth, hiding their identity can be a matter of survival. But hiding “in the closet” can be a double-edged sword. 

“They might be in the closet about their sexuality or gender identity and they might be in the closet because of their feelings of suicide,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of the Trevor Project, the leading national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. 

Founded in 1998, the Trevor project was inspired by an Oscar-winning film by writer James Lecesne and producers Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone about an LGBTQ+ teen considering suicide. In the decades since, the conversation around mental health in the United States has grown louder — but the stigma remains. 


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“Some people have a misconception that asking someone if they’re thinking of killing themselves will have a negative impact on them, that it might plant the seed — that is not true,” Paley said. In fact, “it can have a positive impact because it can allow them to open up about what they’re going through.” 

National Suicide Prevention Week runs from the Monday before World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10, to the Sunday afterwards — although the entire month is known as National Suicide Prevention Month. Amid an ongoing global pandemic, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Trevor Project are raising awareness of the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States.

This past year, 40 percent of LGBTQ+ youth and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth reported seriously considering suicide, according to a July survey by the Trevor Project. Nearly half reported engaging in self harm over the past year, including more than 60 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth. 

“There are many that have now been trapped in homes with unsupportive families and parents for many many months now,” said Paley. “For college students, especially ones that might have come out on a college campus and were accepted by their peers and had access to resources and to be their authentic selves… in some cases they might have decided to come out to their parents or family and faced with rejection, abuse or even thrown out of their homes.” 


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The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated existing inequities, Paley said, for a population that is already four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The economic burden is compounded on Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ people of color, who are also dealing with the trauma of confronting racism and police violence. 

“Everyone is talking about the medical and physical impacts of COVID-19 right now…and we want to make sure that people are aware that COVID-19 has an impact on their mental health as well,” Paley said.

The Trevor Project’s CARE campaign, which stands for Connect, Ask, Respond and Empower, promotes awareness of the reality and the resources they offer, including its toll-free, confidential suicide hotline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The organization is also rallying support for a proposal to designate 988 as the dial code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The measure has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission but Congress still has to approve funding, which the FCC estimates would be about $570 million in the first year. A bill has been passed by the Senate but not by the House. 

“We try to hold both feelings of optimism and hope for what can be done and also the reality of the challenges that LGBTQ+ youth are facing,” Paley said. 


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