Suicide numbers and figures are no longer arbitrary to me. They became tangible when I lost my dad to suicide in 2011, and even more so when I recognized the significance of my own suicidal ideation (defined as thoughts of suicide — both passive and active). I am in a good place now; I become a trainer in suicide prevention after having undergone the required trainings to do so. I know the warning signs (talk, behavior, mood), the risk factors (health, environmental, historical) and resources. I wish I had known this information prior to my dad’s death so that I could have gotten him help.
Suicide is a problem. As the 10th leading cause of death nationally, it is a health problem. Almost 45,000 people die by suicide each year in the U.S. Twice as many people die from suicide than die from homicide. Suicide is a problem for our community, with over 1,400 people dying by suicide each year in North Carolina and almost 800 people dying by suicide each year in South Carolina. Suicide knows no boundaries. It affects all age groups, all races, all ethnicities, all socioeconomic statuses, all religions, all geographic regions — you name it. You can find out more by visiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.
Suicide also affects all gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations. There are several barriers to reporting accurately on suicide deaths, and this is especially true when it comes to reporting on the numbers within the LGBTQ community. Medical examiners do not typically note someone’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation on their death certificate. So the data we do have for the LGBTQ community focuses more on suicidal ideation and on suicide attempts.
In 2015, 41.7 percent of North Carolina LGB high school students noted they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year, compared to only 14.1 percent of their straight peers (North Carolina Injury & Violence Prevention Branch, 2015 YRBS). Gender identity was not asked during this survey, and if it was we might find the percentage for transgender and gender non-conforming high school students to be even higher. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41 percent of transgender adults had attempted suicide; compared to only 4.6 percent of the total national population. Find out more at afsp.org/lgbt.
The unfortunate reality is that my dad had most of the risk factors and was showing all of the warning signs. After his death I researched a lot about suicide, and I wanted to know what I could do about it the next time I saw the warning signs and risk factors in someone else (including myself).
What I found was that I could:
• Talk to the person about my concerns;
• Ask directly if they were having thoughts of suicide (Are you having thoughts of suicide? Have you thought of killing yourself?)
• Listen to them, for as long as they need it;
• Get additional help (doctor, mental health professional, suicide prevention hotline); and
• If in immediate danger, call 911 and ask for the CIT (Crisis Intervention Trained) officer.
We have national and local resources at our fingertips, as well:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq.
• Trans Lifeline
1-877-565-8860 or translifeline.org.
• The Trevor Project
1-866-488-7386 or thetrevorproject.org.
• Suicide hotlines by state
Find your local Mobile Crisis Management Team at:
• North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
• Hands on Health – South Carolina
• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
I am a queer, cisgender woman who has been affected by suicide and who serves as the chair of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I advocate for suicide and mental health awareness and the LGBTQ community. I encourage everyone to learn more: take a suicide prevention training class, look into the suicide prevention hotlines and available resources online, reach out to others, and take care of yourself.
If you want to know more about the warning signs and risk factors, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. You can also find your local suicide bereavement support groups online if you lost a loved one to suicide. We have walks to raise awareness, as well as events to remember our loved ones whom we have lost.
I am honored every time I am asked to write or speak about suicide, mental health, and the LGBTQ community. These are tough subjects, and through my work I am able to bring others understanding, comfort and hope. Please join me in my fight to #StopSuicide. I promise we will have a little fun along the way.
info: Dana M. Cea is chair of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or visit danamcea.com and afsp.org/northcarolina to learn more.