Suicide & Back-to-School Bullying: A Crisis for GLBT and Questioning Youth

It’s in the headlines, especially now that students are heading back to school. For untold numbers of youth, the new school year is full of daily torment – humiliation, teasing, physical violence, name calling, intimidation, isolation and loneliness, and now with social networking, harassment through text messaging and online is skyrocketing.

We know that the youth in the HATCH program regularly hear derogatory comments from their peers, and many don’t feel they can turn to school officials for help. “For GLBT and Questioning youth, this bullying culture can be relentless, especially when it comes to the internet and smart phones,” says Deb Murphy, MCC Youth Services Specialist. According to Murphy, “Teens and young adults are just beginning the process of developing coping skills, and many are dealing with hormone changes at the same time. Their life experiences are very limited, as is their circle of influence. Bullying shatters their confidence at an extremely fragile time, so it’s not surprising that there are countless stories in the news about violence and suicide.”

Teenagers, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. Researchers believe GLBT youth are at an increased risk for suicide due to isolation, rejection, confusion, and shame due to being repeatedly marginalized by society.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, but the HATCH program focuses on this issue year-round, providing a GLBT-supportive network, online information and resources to GLBT youth everywhere, and engaging youth in suicide prevention strategies, including the creation of a personalized suicide prevention plan. Youth who are being bullied in school are eligible for counseling through MCC’s Hate Crimes program. “We hope to be able to help them develop coping skills before they think that suicide is their only solution,” says Murphy. Experts believe that most suicidal individuals do not want to die. They just want their pain to end.

Montrose Counseling Center is a member of the Houston Area Suicide Prevention Coalition. Executive Director Ann J. Robison, PhD, says, “With the focus this month, we hope members of Houston’s GLBT communities know that we’re here for them, whether it’s through HATCH, the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard, or seeing a therapist in our GLBT-affirming counseling center.”

In FY2010, Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston logged 567 calls, with callers looking for anything as simple as a referral to GLBT and GLBT-friendly organizations and businesses, to callers with serious concerns about sexuality, HIV, substance abuse, relationship problems, domestic violence, sexual assault and crisis intervention. A call to Gay & Lesbian Switchboard at 713.529.3211 may be the first step to getting help. Switchboard volunteers are available for emergency crisis intervention 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are trained to listen, offer nonjudgmental support and to help callers find their own solutions, making referrals to agencies when necessary.