Good role models may help reduce suicide rates this holiday season

Each year, suicide claims more lives of Tennesseans than homicide, and the GLBT community is at high risk.

Scott Ridgway, executive director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, said the key to lowering that risk may lie in providing positive role models and a sense of belonging to people who are rejected for identifying as LGBT or questioning.

As the holiday season approaches, phone calls to suicide hotlines reach their peak.

“Suicide crisis line calls increase in the holiday season, and we see the numbers of suicides increase in the spring,” Ridgway said.

Did you know?
For every suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).

GLBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey. Ridway said that survey represents a nationwide trend.

Another study, done by the 2007 San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute, shows that GLBT and questioning youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

“It is so important that we make sure that if [homosexuals] are rejected by their families, that we connect them with some positive adult role models to build their self-esteem," Ridgway said. "If children are rejected by their families, we hope that they will find some adult to reduce their risk of suicide. That’s why we have a lot of clubs at schools.”

Ridgway said GLBT youth in Tennessee have a helpful support network which includes PFLAG, One-in-Teen, the Oasis Center, and the Trevor Project.

“We want kids to realize that there is hope out there and if they can find someone who cares about them then the hope is there,” he said.

The realities and statistics may be depressing, but they can be presented as proactive measure to prevent future suicide attempts. Charles Loyd has found that sharing his personal story about losing a friend to suicide may be helpful, too.

Should you or someone you know have suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Loyd, of Nashville, believes that long term feelings of guilt about being gay might have been the reason his friend committed suicide last June. He said he is still dealing with the loss.

“The hard part of talking about the statistics is that they can be very depressing, but a personal story can give hope," Loyd said. "He was loving and kind, and he was a good, gentle soul that added so much to the world. And, he gave so much of himself.”

Loyd said neither he nor his friend's family noticed a difference in his friend's behavior before his suicide. He said distance between family and a family member contemplating suicide can make the signs difficult to read for anyone except for close friends.

“In our community, if we don’t have a partner that is getting information, it is hard for anyone to see any signs," Loyd said. "His family lived out of town, and his friends here knew more about him than his family did.”

The shocking event has been extremely difficult for Loyd to process emotionally, he said.

“When he committed suicide, my immediate reaction was denial because at that point [suicide] was not confirmed," Loyd said. "The hardest part is when you do find out that it is true: then you have to start that grieving process. It has probably been the most difficult death that I have had to overcome because it was senseless.”

Loyd believes that a lack of acceptance from the church might have contributed to his friend’s suicide. 

“In my generation we were never taught to embrace anything different from our faith," he said. "And, even more prevalent is the fact that there was kind of an underlying disdain or disregard for anyone outside our faith. When you are raised with that, it is really hard to overcome that belief system. So, I definitely think that played a part—that guilt that you carry with you so much of your life.”

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