How to Reach Out – LGBTQ+
Unfortunately, people within the LGBTQ+ community can experience stigma and discrimination all throughout their lives. Some may experience verbal threats or harassment, while others may be targets of sexual and physical assaults.
Identifying as LGBTQ+ is not a risk factor for suicide, but the behaviour of others, especially family and friends, can make all the difference. If loved ones are supportive and provide a healthy environment, it makes it easier for someone from the LGBTQ+ community to live, grow and thrive. Some adults choose to come out with their sexual identity later in life, and might have to deal with the negative reactions of others. Some may choose not to come out due to the fear of rejection and homophobia/transphobia. In this case, the person may struggle because they are keeping their feelings inside. This could lead to problems with their mental health and/or increase their risk of suicide. Being supportive of the person drastically reduces the risk and will improve their quality of life as well.
How can you tell if a person indentifying as LGBTQ+ in your life is struggling with their mental health?
Learning the warning signs of suicide is a huge part of preventing a crisis. Although emotional ups and downs are normal, sometimes a person who is suicidal gives certain signs or hints that something is wrong. Knowing these major warning signs can help you connect someone you care about to support if they need it – even if that person is yourself. It’s very important to be alert to changes in the person. The following are some potential signs to watch for:
- Changes in behaviours or regular activities
- Withdrawal from others
- Missing school or work frequently
- Use of alcohol and/or drugs
- Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping far too much
- Lower energy and motivation
- Frequent outbursts of anger, rage or mood swings
- Avoiding family and/or friends
- Change in personality
- Acting strange, out of the ordinary
- Change in physical health and/or hygiene
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Suicidal Ideation (thinking and talking about death)
- Feelings of anxiety and/or agitation
- Has experienced a recent loss
What can you do if you notice a change in someone’s behaviour?
If you recognize some of the warning signs of suicide in someone or feel that someone you know is at risk for suicide, there are steps you can take to help:
- Write down what you want to say.
- Think about what you would do and prepare yourself if the person has a negative reaction.
- Identify the mental health resources that are available in your community, and identify if there are resources that are specific to the LGBTQ+ community, if possible/accessible.
- Talk to others who are in contact with the person more regularly to see if they have noticed similar behaviour changes.
- Talk to other people who may have dealt with similar situations.
- If you’re not comfortable or familiar with issues that a person indentifying as LGBTQ+ may be facing, acknowledge it and get some information to learn and become more aware of what the person is going through.
- Choose an appropriate time and place to have the conversation.
Talk About It
Here are a few things to keep in mind during the conversation:
- Talk about the changes you have noticed. Keep it short and give the person the opportunity to think about what was said. Make sure you set a time to talk about it later on. But if you feel the person might do something drastic, do not leave them alone.
- Provide support. The person needs to feel your genuine support. Always keep in mind that people do not choose their sexual identity.
- Keep calm. Don’t take things personally. The person may do or say things out of anger or disbelief. Help the person find someone they trust if they don’t feel comfortable with you. They may also be open to speaking with a counselor or a doctor.
- Be open-minded and non-judgmental. Replace “it’s just a phase,” “you can’t be LGBTQ,” or “let’s not talk about this” with “help me understand,” “I am here for you,” and “I care about you/I love you.”
- Leave the door open for further conversation. No matter what the time is, it’s important to be there for the person. It often takes great courage for them to open up about their issues.
- Don’t give up. Don’t accept the answer that “nothing is wrong” if your instinct is telling you otherwise. Be persistent, but in a loving/caring way.
- Connect them with help. Offer to accompany them if possible.
- Take care of yourself. Helping out a depressed or suicidal person can be very stressful. Make sure you get some support for yourself, whether it be friends, family, health care providers, etc.
- Remember: You are not responsible for anyone who chooses to take their own life.
If you’re worried that the person might be suicidal, call the Mental Health Crisis Line at 1 866 996-0991. If you believe the person is at immediate risk of hurting themselves or someone else, call 9-1-1.
Related Links and Resources
Rainbow Health Ontario (www.RainbowHealthOntario.ca).