GLBTQIAs and Suicide
Edwin E., 35, was 17 when he first considered “ending it all.”
“Life couldn’t have been more difficult than it was (for me then),” he says, citing how his father “just wanted me gone, anyway, as I was a source of shame for the family, his family – and (my mother), good wife that she was, just seconded him.” Worse, he didn’t get the support he needed from his family from “anybody at all – I was bullied at school, where I went with cousins who (did the worst bullying, pushing me down stairs, hitting me on the head, whatever). (Sans) any support, I had nothing in my name; it was like the whole world conspired against me.”
What seemingly made sense was “to just end it there and then,” Edwin E. says.
Edwin E. had, at different times in his life, slit his wrists (“I didn’t bleed to death, as I thought I would,” he says, sardonically smiling. “The doctor said I did it wrong.”), took “more than a handful of some meds,” hoping to overdose (“I got high, instead, enjoying the feeling of seemingly flying.”), and considered hanging himself (“I was worried I’d leave unnecessary marks on my neck,” he jokes.).
“All those times,” Edwin E. says, “I felt so alone. And all because I’m gay.”
Interestingly, seemingly belying this feeling of loneliness – or, arguably, stressing it in an ironic way – Edwin E. isn’t alone in feeling alone, enough to consider ending life. Even sans the availability of local figures, with the continuing ignoring of the issue as a major health issue in the Philippines, as early as 1999 in the US, the Center for Disease Control and the Massachusetts Department of Education already released a youth risk behavior survey which cited that 33% of gay youth will, at some point of their lives, attempt suicide – a figure four times that of heterosexual youth.
Thus, the link between the GLBTQIA community and suicide needs to be continuously closely looked at.
According to P. LaBarbera in Gay Youth Suicide: Myth is Used to Promote Homosexual Agenda, published by the Family Research Council, “activists have grossly exaggerated the number of gay teenagers who have actually died by suicide.” But for Dale O’Leary, who cites LaBarbera in Gay Teens and Attempted Suicide (narth.com), there is, nevertheless, “substantial evidence that (gay) teenagers are at greater risk to attempt (if not complete) suicide, and, thus, it is important to examine the possible contributing factors.
Various studies stress this.
Researchers F. Remafedi, J. Farrow, and R. Deisher (1991), in Risk Factors for Attempted Suicide in Gay and Bisexual Youth (Pediatrics 87: 869-875), noted that some 30% of the gay and bisexual adolescents who participated in a 1991 study made at least one suicide attempt in a lifetime. Specifically, the occurrence was related to “coming out at a younger age, gender atypicality, low self-esteem, substance abuse, running away, involvement in prostitution, and other psychosocial morbidities,” with 44% of cases attributing the suicide attempts to family problems, including conflict with family members and parents’ marital discord, divorce/separation, or alcoholism.
“In fact, psychology has long known that homosexuality is associated with dysfunctional family structures. Statistically, gay men tend to report poor childhood relationships with their fathers, while lesbian women tend to report poor childhood relationships with their mothers. Thus, society’s oppression seems a simplistic and misleading explanation for suicidal ideation in gay teenagers,” adds O’Leary, this time quoting A. Bell, M. Weinberg, and S. Hammersmith in Sexual Preference (Bloomington, IN: Indiana U. Press, 1981).
For Remafedi, et al, “Subjects who had viewed themselves as homosexual or bisexual at an earlier age were more likely to attempt suicide; and 36.6% of the attempters were classified as feminine (versus17.7% of non-attempters).”
“Homosexually-oriented adolescents classified as ‘feminine’ are at the highest risk for suicide attempts, drug abuse, prostitution, arrest, and, by implication, the deadly health problems associated with unprotected anal sex. The earlier these teens self-identify as homosexual, and the more ‘out’ they are, the greater the risk of negative lifestyle factors,” the authors state.
Other notable findings in the study include: “Teens who had attempted suicide were more likely to have had sexual experiences at an early age; only 27% of suicide attempters had parents who were married (versus 50% of the non-attempters); 61% of the suicide attempters had been sexually abused (versus only 29% of the non-attempters); 85% of the attempters had used illicit drugs (versus 63% of non-attempters); 51% of the attempters had been arrested (versus only 28% of non-attempters); and 29% of the attempters had been involved in prostitution (versus 17% of non-attempters).”
Similarly, W.J. Blumenfeld and L. Lindop cite in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth Suicide (outproud.org), that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued as early as 1989 the Report on the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, which found that “a majority of suicide attempts by homosexuals occur during their youth, and gay youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. They may comprise up to 30% of (the estimated 5,000) completed youth suicides annually.”
Interestingly, while the HHS recommended that “mental health and youth service agencies can provide acceptance and support for young homosexuals, train their personnel on gay issues, and provide appropriate gay adult role models; schools can protect gay youth from abuse from their peers and provide accurate information about homosexuality in health curricula; families should accept their child and work toward educating themselves about the development and nature of homosexuality,” the report was suppressed by the then George H.W. Bush administration as it “undermined the institution of the family.”
When leaked to the media, the findings were eventually widely released.
Still, the fact remains that “the earlier a young person is aware of a gay or lesbian orientation, the greater the problems they may face and may be more likely at risk of suicidal feelings and behaviour,” Ramafedi says. “Younger gay adolescents may be at the highest risk for dysfunction because of emotional and physical immaturity, unfulfilled developmental needs for identification with a peer group, lack of experience, and dependence on parents unwilling or unable to provide emotional support. Younger gay adolescents are also more likely to abuse substances, drop out of school, be in conflict with the law, undergo psychiatric hospitalization, run away from home, be involved in prostitution, and attempt suicide.”