The LGBTQIA+ community is one united by shared cultures, social movements, pride, diversity, individuality, fluidity, and sexuality. Embracing these identities can bring many positive outcomes for LGBTQIA+ people, such as increased confidence and a sense of belonging. However, they can still experience stigma and discrimination, precipitating a lack of acceptance, belief, or support.
The Minority Stress Theory suggests that everyday prejudices the LGBTQIA+ community faces, and the resulting internalisation of shame can compound to create a reluctance to seek help. This means that LGBTQIA+ people have an elevated risk of anxiety, depression, distress, and thoughts of suicide and are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual and cisgender peers.
These are challenging truths to digest and call for a shift in the narrative and influence of change. With organisations such as ours here at PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, which provides accepting services for LGBTQIA+ people and tailored support that is underpinned by people from the community, we can spread a message of hope and continue to save LGBTQIA+ lives from suicide.
The importance of intersectionality
When understanding how best to support LGBTQIA+ people with their thoughts of suicide, it’s important to consider how their social identities can overlap to create unique experiences of marginalisation. Intersectionality was coined in the late 80s by black feminist Kimberle Crenshaw. It can be used to recognise how interlocking systems of privilege and oppression can shape an individual’s interaction of identities. These identities may include (but are not limited to) ethnicity, disability or religion, which intersect to present distinct stressors for those people in comparison to others.
The LGBTQIA+ community presents a complex picture of intersectionality, as it encompasses an array of sexualities and genders, providing varied experiences of oppression. For example, studies reveal that those who are bisexual/pansexual, transgender and/or non-binary can experience increased disparities in comparison to others in the LGBTQIA+ community and, therefore, be more vulnerable to suicide. When this is combined with factors such as ethnicity, it puts those individuals at even higher risk. Young LGBTQIA+ people of colour are 5% more likely to think about taking their own life than their white peers (Stonewall, 2017) and are even more likely if they are transgender or non-binary, with 1 in 4 of them considering suicide (The Trevor Project, 2021).
When providing support to LGBTQIA+ people, we should be mindful of intersectionality and acknowledge that not every individual’s experiences will be the same, even if they have similar social identities. Recognising this is the first critical step, but what else should we do to help prevent LGBTQIA+ suicide?
How to help prevent LGBTQIA+ suicide
Acceptance, understanding, and not assuming someone’s pronouns.
There are many spaces where LGBTQIA+ people may not feel safe to express themselves, so allowing them to do so without fear of judgement can provide a massive sense of security. To help foster this, it’s important to try to unlearn the assumption of someone’s pronouns or sexuality. They may not always feel comfortable sharing this information with you, or they might not be sure which pronouns and/or sexuality best identify who they are, and that’s okay, too. Be open to hearing what’s the most comfortable words for them to use in the moment and use them. This can allow the person to feel heard and know that you are a trustworthy person to speak to.
It’s also okay to ask questions if you don’t fully understand something someone has shared or the terminology they’ve used, by respectfully asking for clarification. It is important to take this knowledge on board whilst also not forcing information out of that person; no one owes an explanation of who they are, and you can have the opportunity to educate yourself following interactions.
Providing space for someone to be open about their experiences and feel safe to do so.
It’s important to avoid certain phrases like “I completely understand” because even if you are a community member or identify similarly, every individual’s experiences are different. We can never truly understand how that person feels; only they can. You can, however, offer reassurances, for example, by saying something like, “That sounds really difficult, I can’t imagine what that must feel like for you,” as this is non-assumptive and can also open the conversation more for them to share.
One of the most important steps to preventing suicide is actively listening and being present, which having these open, non-judgemental, and accepting conversations shows that you are doing. Honesty and respect also reflect that you care for that person and are being your true self in offering them support.
Using PAPYRUS’ resources.
If you are an LGBTQIA+ person who is having thoughts of suicide or you’re supporting someone from the community who is, you don’t have to be alone in that. In these moments, you can turn to PAPYRUS.
Firstly, our helpline, HOPELINE247: 0800 068 4141, is available for any young person thinking about suicide to reach out to any time, any day. It is also available for anyone looking for further guidance on supporting someone thinking about suicide. Our advisors are professionally equipped to respond to calls and have undertaken training on how to have inclusive conversations with LGBTQIA+ people. They have received calls from those who are LGBTQIA+ who have shared feedback that they felt listened to and validated.
For anyone who may not want to speak to us over the phone but would still like to get in touch, you can text us at 07860 039 967 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources and signposting.
• They provide a confidential phone, email and text messaging service, which is open 10:00 – 22:00
• All volunteers on the phonelines are LGBT themselves
• You can talk to them about any concerns you have – no topic is off-limits
• Although this service is for Brighton and Hove, their online support is global
• They have an instant messaging chat where you can talk directly with an advocate about thoughts of suicide or supporting someone who is experiencing that
• They have resources directed to people in the community of all ages
• They provide counselling services specifically for the LGBT community
• They are accessible and accepting of all sexual orientations, gender identities and backgrounds
• Their services come at a cost but are based on location, preferences and therapist availability
• They provide peer support groups and meetings for young LGBTQIA+ people of colour
• Their meet-ups allow young people to meet others who can relate to their experiences and get support from one another