Our teenaged children are killing themselves because they are already depressed and believe they live in a world in which they know they do not and will not have equal rights, and because they are constantly, relentlessly hounded, threatened, harassed and bullied, have virtually no support and have lost all hope.
They are afraid for their own safety and their very lives. They are alone in a hostile, hateful world without hope of rescue or change. Death is better. They are encouraged to die.
How do I know? I was a teen suicide survivor. This story is particularly saddening to me and I cannot stop crying when I see pictures and videos of Jamey Rodemeyer.
A Buffalo, N.Y., self identifying Gay boy, 14 years old, killed himself last weekend after posting an online goodbye. This past week his family buried him. Jamey Rodemeyer posted these statements on his Facebook page:
“I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens.
… What do I have to do so people will listen to me?
No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me
[Gay slur] and tearing me down.”
Jamey had been under duress and tormented for at least the past 12 months by bullies who made hateful anonymous comments with derogatory Gay references on his Formspring account, even encouraging him to kill himself.
“JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” (sic)
one post said. Another read,
“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it :)
It would make everyone WAY more happier!” (sic)
Friends reported the bullying to guidance counselors, but everyone, including his mother, thought he had grown stronger. However evidence shows that for months, the teen, who idolized pop singer Lady Gaga, posted warnings.
We know now that he had blogged about being bullied and his thoughts of suicide.
On Sept. 8 be posted lyrics to a song by Hollywood Undead that included the line,
“I just wanna say good bye, and disappear with no one knowing. …
I don’t wanna live this lie, smiling to the world unknowing.”
Approximately one million adolescents attempt suicide per year. Every 90 minutes one adolescent commits suicide, making it the third leading cause of death among ten- to 19-year-olds.[i]
Kaplan and Sadock state, “Universal features in suicidal adolescents are the inability to synthesize solutions to problems and the lack of coping strategies to deal with immediate stressors. A narrow view of the options available to contributes to a decision to commit suicide.”
For Gay adolescents this reasoning is far more pronounced. The process of realizing that one is Gay and having to accept it is not just an immediate stressor and can actually narrow one’s options further by taking away coping resources, such as friends and family[ii].
Gay adolescents who “come out” (disclose their sexuality) may experience great family discord, rejection, and even failure from the disappointment they elicit.[iii]
It would make sense to conclude that being Gay is an important risk factor for adolescent suicide.
Surprisingly, however, there are still many physicians who disagree and textbooks fail to adequately emphasize this point. This reflects the need to understand the increased risk of suicide among Gay adolescents.[iv]
Gay Youth At Increased Risk: More Than Twice as Likely Prone to Suicide
Being a Gay adolescent is a significant risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts. More than 15 different studies conducted within the last 20 years have consistently showed significantly higher rates of suicide attempts, in the range of 20 to 40%, among Gay adolescents.[v]
Russell and Joyner, found, in their study involving over 6,000 adolescent girls and over 5,000 adolescent boys, that adolescents with a same-sex orientation were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.
People commit suicide leaving family and friends asking, “Why?” Could it be because of a secret they could not bear revealing–such as being Gay?
One study involving 350 Gay adolescents between the ages of 14 and 21 reported that 54% made their first suicide attempt before coming out to others, 27% made the attempt during the same year they came out…[vi]
Since being a Gay adolescent is a risk factor for suicide, it needs to be addressed within the medical community. Physicians can help by raising the issue when appropriate. Addressing the issue of sexuality with adolescents can be made easier and more effective if the physician understands why it is so unbearable for some adolescents to reveal their sexuality or to live with being Gay.
Victimization a leading Cause
Being Gay in-and-of-itself is not the cause of the increase in suicide. Victimization is.
The increased risk comes from the psychosocial distress associated with being Gay. Six studies found that suicide attempts were significantly associated with psychosocial stressors, including gender nonconformity, early awareness of being Gay, victimization, lack of support, school dropout, family problems, acquaintances’ suicide attempts…
Thus, physiciansdo more in helping Gay adolescents by understanding their stress load and its impact on suicide risk.
They may even save their lives.
By noting the changes taking place in the media and the law, it is apparent that being Gay is somewhat more accepted and tolerated by today’s society.
However, Gays are still being discriminated against and victimized.[vii]
One study involving 500 Gay and lesbian adolescents in which it was found that 41% had experienced violence and 46% of that violence was reported as being related to being Gay.
In one study involving over 9,000 9th through 12th graders, 24% of Gay/bisexual males reported at-school victimization ten or more times per year as compared with their heterosexual counterparts, and 10.1% of lesbian/bisexual females compared with their female counterparts.
These constant extremely negative experiences can result in mood disorders, lower self-esteem, posttraumatic stress symptoms, substance abuse, and suicide.
An adolescent does not need to be directly victimized to be affected by discrimination against Gays.
The Society Itself Contributes to the Pandemic
We know that Matthew Shephard, a University of Wyoming student, was brutally murdered in 1998 because he was Gay. What impact did this devastating event have on young individuals who were beginning to realize that they too were Gay and living in the same society in which the murder was praised?
What messages are these politicians who are opposed to Marriage Equality sending to Gay adolescents?
How does living in a society where people are rejected, disapproved of, or hated for their sexuality affect a Gay adolescent’s self-esteem or identity development? (Nelson, 1997).
Further, what may be even worse than being hated by an ignorant society because of one’s sexuality is being rejected, humiliated, and victimized by one’s own family or peers.[viii]
Being a Gay Suicide Survivor
By the time I was Jayme’s age I had been cast as a weak, defenseless Gay teenager who was a prime target for bullying. Every day of high school I was called by a derogatory name at least once. Often there was intimidation. Some days there were also physical attacks. Once I was sent home because of a cut on my face administered by the quarterback of the football team. At the very least I was treated with contempt. I was never ever accepted.
By the time I had just turned 18 I had had enough and attempted to take my own life. At the last possible second the will to live proved stronger than my will to die.
I can utterly identify with Jayme and his choice. It could easily have been me.
My own victimization continued most of my life from the time I was in grade school on. I can still remember the taunts, endless name calling, humiliation, verbal and physical threats, actual attacks.
Even as an adult I have encountered ignorant people who attempt to bully in corporate America. I still remember vividly:
- Darell, the apelike person, who did nothing at the phone company but protect his job, eat lunch and persecute gay people (in a company which said it was inclusive);
- Bill, the outright homophobe, who claimed to be a Marine and who in reality had been drummed out of the Corps quickly for behavior problems;
- Mike, the inept manager, who told me he was proud of himself because he hadn’t killed me;
- Art, a very unpopular boss, who told me that the higher ups hated ‘those lavender types.’
- Reinhart who smirkingly inquired about my “wife” even as he set me up to fail on a project,
- Kari who stupidly tried probing my sexuality making references to a Gay handy man she had hired and how I reminded her of him…
- Another Mike who called a one-on-one meeting with me in which he sat back in his chair thrusting his crotch up and pawing himself and told me how much he looked forward to receiving Victoria’s Secrets catalogues.
Whoever tells you this doesn’t go on is blind, ignorant or lying. The whole boy’s club network which I discovered in 2nd grade and was promptly excluded from by the 3rd or 4th is alive and well at all levels. Its members thrive on their common love of sports, money, power, misogyny and their common hatred of Gay people.
Marriage Equality will send a strong message to the bullies that their time is done, their sick little party over. They are already mumbling disgruntled about the Matthew Shepard law, which made their behaviors largely illegal. With Equality their paradigms will finally have to shift. At the very least they will have to shut up.
Let’s Save Some Lives
In the meantime let’s save some children, shall we?
If you have children, take all talk of suicide seriously. Do not assume it is abated anytime soon. Continue to offer support and engage your children. Be aware of warning signs. Per Trevor Project:
Often times, a suicidal person may indicate in some way that they plan to attempt suicide. Here are some warning signs you should know about.
- Increased Isolation – From family and friends
- Alcohol or Drug Use Increases
- Expression of negative attitude toward self
- Expression of hopelessness or helplessness
- Change in Regular Behavior
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Giving away valued possessions
- Expression of a lack of future orientation (i.e. “It won’t matter soon anyway”)
- Expressing Suicidal Feelings
- Signs of Depression
- Describes a Specific Plan for Suicide
- History of Suicide in the Family
- A person who has been extremely depressed in the past may be at an increased risk for suicide if the depression begins to cease, as they may now have the psychological energy to follow through on a suicidal ideation.
Protective Factors are those that make it less likely someone will attempt suicide. They can encompass biological, psychological or social factors in the individual, family and environment.
- Easy Access to Effective, Culturally Competent Care(1)
- Support Through Ongoing Medical and Mental Health Care Relationships(1)
- Coping, Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution Skills(1)
- Restricted Access to Highly Lethal Means of Suicide(1)
- Strong Connections to Family(1,2,3,6,7,8)
- Family and Parental Acceptance of Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity(8)
- School Safety, Support, Connectedness and Peer Groups such as Gay-Straight Alliances (3,5,7)
- Community Support (1,3)
- Positive Role Models and Self-esteem(4)
- Cultural and Religious Beliefs that Discourage Suicide and Support Self Preservation (1)
(1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2001
(2) Borowsky et al 2001
(3) Eisenberg & Resnick 2006
(4) Fenaughty & Harre 2003
(5) Goodenow et al 2006
(6) Kidd et al 2006
(7) Resnick et al 1997
(8) Ryan et al 2010
If you or someone you care about displays any of the warning signs, please do not hesitate to call
The Trevor Lifeline at:
to speak with a trained counselor.
Let us help.
[i] Gould et al., 2003; Kaplan & Sadock, 2003).
[ii] Goldfried, 2001; Heimberg & Safren, 1999; Paul et al., 2002; Nelson, 1997
[iii] Hart & Heimberg, 2001; D’Augelli et al., 1998
[iv] Kitts, Robert L., Gay Adolescents and Suicide… Adolescence.
[v] Gould et al., 2003; Goldfried, 2001; Heimberg & Safren, 1999; Paul et al., 2002; Russell & Joyner, 2001; D’Augelli et al., 2001; Remafedi, 1999; Lock & Steiner, 1999; Garofalo et al., 1999; Borowsky et al., 2001; Udry & Chantala, 2002)
[vi] D’Augelli et al., 2001.
[vii] Goldfried, 2001; Heimberg & Safren, 1999; Paul et al., 2002; Hart & Heimberg, 2001; DuRant et al., 1998; Russell et al., 2001; Bontempo & D’Augelli, 2002; McDaniel et al., 2001; Savin-Williams, 1994
Goldfried, M. (2001). Integrating Gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues into mainstream psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 977-88.
Gould, S., Greenberg, T., & Velting, D., et al. (2003). Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: A review of the past 10 years. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 386-405.
Hart, T., & Heimberg, R. (2001). Presenting problems among treatment-seeking Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 615-627.
Li Kitts, Robert, “Gay adolescents and suicide: understanding the association”. Adolescence.