World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so I’m going to talk about it a little bit, as I do every year. But first: If you are feeling like you might hurt yourself, or just want to talk, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (Want an LGBTQ+ youth specialist? Call the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or follow that link to chat.)

Now then.

Have you ever felt suicidal? I have. I even came very close to doing it once or twice. Thankfully and obviously, I did not.

It’s something I live with, though. Like jaw pain from grinding my teeth, it pops up during periods of high stress, and floats, in a low-grade way, in the back of my mind. But it is managed, with therapy, medication, and lifestyle choices.

Some of the management takes the form of morbid self-talk. People really hate it when I narrate this, but here goes:

Me: “Bullshit problem x is intractable and you should just kill yourself.”
Also me: “Well, how about we finish writing these tests, and then we can kill ourselves over bullshit problem x.”
Me: “…You finished the tests, and bullshit problem x is still…”
Also me: “Look, if I don’t finish writing this story, nobody’s ever going to read it. I can kill myself after that, okay? Great.”
Me: “…The story is out to readers now. It’s late at night and you’re alone. This would be a great time to kill–”
Also me: “Nope, can’t, somebody is wrong on the internet. Let’s pick this back up when that stops.”

Not today, satan, as they say. Don’t get me wrong: My life isn’t entirely, or even mostly, a mad scramble away from such thoughts. It’s just one tool in my toolbox for when things get especially hairy.

But enough about me. Today I would like to talk about my friend SP. We met when I was thirteen, and starting high school a touch early. I didn’t know anybody. SP was fifteen, probably, a sophomore. She was great, one of my first new friends in that new part of town. Always happy to show you around, lend a hand as needed, or listen to your dumb problems. Sort of the school mascot for the weird kids.

SP was bi, though I sorta figured she was probably totally gay. She was the first queer person I knew who didn’t have HIV, no joke. It seemed like her hair was always a different color. She wore Doc Martens and these ridiculous military surplus outfits, that bright red camo stuff. I remember she used to joke it was in case she needed to blend in with a pile of flaming moose. Her family was also a bunch of religious fundamentalists, including her parents, so that was fun for her.

I remember the phone call my parents got when she died. I picked up the phone and somebody I didn’t recognize asked for my parents. I assumed a telemarketer and said they weren’t there. Then she said she worked for the school and started to cry. I got my mom. A few minutes later, my mom sat me down on the white leather couch in the living room, and I started to learn a very confusing lesson about life.

SP’s family was so ashamed of her, they didn’t even have a memorial service.

Here are some facts about LGB people under twenty-five.

  • They are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Their attempts are five times as likely to require medical intervention.
  • If their families reject them, they are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as their LGB peers with low levels of rejection–peers who are already many times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexuals.

We don’t have great statistics on trans* youth, but here’s one we do know: 40% of transgender adults report having made a suicide attempt; of that group, 92% did it before the age of twenty-five.

These statistics are via The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention nonprofit for LGBT youth. It is a very important organization to me. At my wedding, I requested donations to them in lieu of gifts. Perhaps you would like to donate something today too.

Thank you for reading.

41 replies
  1. 1
    Ivan X says:

    Thank you for writing.

  2. 2
    Ivan X says:

    Thank you for writing.

  3. 3
    Wag says:

    A terrible story about your friend. I can only imagine.

    SP’s family was so ashamed of her, they didn’t even have a memorial service.

    So ashamed of her, or so ashamed of themselves?

  4. 4

    @Wag: fair point, I don’t know, none of us ever talked to them again.

  5. 5
    HumboldtBlue says:

    I live next door to suicide.

    I have since I was a kid.

    Learned to sing.

    Dance.

    Still scramble for a smile.

    I say “fuck you” a lot.

  6. 6
    different-church-lady says:

    I had a helpful insight a few weeks ago, as I was going through a period of maximum stress: when I get my occasional bouts of thinking that “checking out” is the only rational course of action left, those thoughts are driven by a strange kind of self-loathing. I have depression, and it’s manageable, yet I disgust myself by being a person who struggles with depression, instead of achieving what I envision for myself. It’s that disgust that drives any suicidal thoughts I have.

    So, it will be interesting to see what happens going forward, now that I have a better handle on those emotions.

    Also, a few years ago I had a councillor say something very wise: thoughts of suicide can be a coping mechanism.

    Final rambling thought: in high school I had a friend who was talking like she was thinking about giving up. I told her the truth: “I can’t tell you not to, but I can tell you that I would miss you.” And somehow that seemed to do the trick.

  7. 7
    J R in WV says:

    Major^4, so sorry to hear about your young friend SP. She sounds like someone I would have liked. I’ve always been glad to see people more accepting of LBGTQ folks as time has passed and our culture appears to be growing up a little.

    And that her family didn’t have any memorial, well, that was their loss, obviously. I was quite a bit older when a friend committed suicide, probably 30ish, I’m bad about dates and age. Still a shock.

    Also sorry you have had episodes of thinking seriously about death and killing yourself. To me, I’m anxiously waiting for more of your graphic novel about Denver warlocks and witchery! So don’t! Many stories to write, and code to fix! Take Care, please.

    You all on the Mid-Atlantic coast — staying there while this storm approaches is suicide, don’t do that to us!

  8. 8

    @J R in WV: ha, don’t worry, I’ve been drawing.

  9. 9
    opiejeanne says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Besides that, who would feed your Samwise?

  10. 10
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    SP’s family was so ashamed of her, they didn’t even have a memorial service.

    The ineffable heartbreak in that one sentence. I know it’s years later now, Major^4, but I’m sorry for the loss of your friend SP. What a fucking tragedy.

  11. 11
    CapnMubbers says:

    @HumboldtBlue: You also pulled me out of a very dark place one New Year’s Eve or thereabouts, with a post over on RumpRoast–– the calm, beautiful water from your canoe (kayak?) in the dusk, and what you wrote, even if you did say fuck a lot.

  12. 12

    Thank you for writing about this — and so sorry to hear about SP, we’re still losing far too many LGBT kids. It’s heart-breaking.

    FYI, to round out the stats for trans kids… Two 2017 studies found that 1 out of 3 transgender youths reported considering suicide — with bullying being a major reason why.

    The studies found that 34 percent of transgender youths reported suicidal thoughts in a year, nearly double that of the 19 percent reported by other adolescents. Transgender youths also had markedly higher levels of substance abuse, even when controlling for other risk factors. Students’ reported experiences of victimization appeared to factor into the higher rates of risky behavior.

    In the face of that, even “small” things make a huge difference. A follow-up study this year by the same researchers found when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops dramatically.

    Researchers interviewed transgender youths ages 15 to 21 and asked whether young people could use their chosen name at school, home, work and with friends. Compared with peers who could not use their chosen name in any context, young people who could use their name in all four areas experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34 percent decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts….

    having even one context in which a chosen name could be used was associated with a 29 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts. The researchers controlled for personal characteristics and social support.

    “I’ve been doing research on LGBT youth for almost 20 years now, and even I was surprised by how clear that link was,” Russell said.

  13. 13
    PhoenixRising says:

    Also me: “Nope, can’t, somebody is wrong on the internet. Let’s pick this back up when that stops.”

    I am so glad to learn that I’m part of your support system.

    On a more serious note, in the 11 months ending on Friday I lost 2 cousins to self-inflicted causes (GSW & OD, killers of healthy white Americans). This year has been one goddam thing after another, what with my mother dying in an unexpected way from a long-expected cause 2 weeks after my dog died, but the losses I can’t make sense of are two people whose lives were in short-term crisis–each picked a permanent solution that didn’t allow for regrets.

    We’re getting another Great Dane, because I won’t keep a gun in this house. And I don’t care how many times I’m given an RX for pain meds, we just don’t need those around here either. Yes, it still hurts; no, nothing would not be an improvement.

  14. 14
    Louise B. says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  15. 15
    HumboldtBlue says:

    @CapnMubbers:

    Wasn’t my kayak, but it was a damn fine clip.

    Still not sure who played the pipes.

    Man, that was a few years ago.

    Slainte!

  16. 16
    Darkrose says:

    Thanks, Major^4. The self-talk sounds so familiar, and it’s hard for people who haven’t experienced it to understand sometimes. It’s not that I’m actually going to kill myself, but having tried, it’s always in the back of my mind, especially when things are going badly. The trick is learning to say, “Yeah, not this time.”

  17. 17
    Mart says:

    Pretty sure getting a loved one to call that number saved a family members life. Thanks for highlighting and opening yourself up 4M.

  18. 18

    A previous study found that 41.6% of transgender and gender non-comforming adults had attempted suicide at some point — nearly 9 times as many as the general population. IIRC, the only group with comparable rates were combat vets suffering from PTSD.

    the risk of attempting suicide was especially severe for transgender or gender nonconforming people who had suffered discrimination or violence, such as being physically or sexually assaulted at work or school.

    Among transgender people who became homeless because of bias against their gender identity, 69% said they had tried to kill themselves. Out of those who had been turned away by a doctor because they were transgender or gender-nonconforming, 60% had attempted suicide sometime in their lives, the survey found.

    Nearly two-thirds of respondents who were the victims of domestic violence at the hands of a family member had attempted suicide, the study also showed. Suicide attempts were less common among transgender and gender-nonconforming people who said their family ties had remained strong after they came out.

    Because yes, life is that fucking hard for all too many trans/GNC people. And I’m weary of burying our dead.

    I’m remarkably privileged and lucky that my own transition went remarkably smoothly.

  19. 19
    Msb says:

    Thanks for this post.
    “One day at a time” is a damn useful motto.

  20. 20
    SectionH says:

    Thank you for this post. Or not: I’m still hyperventilating a bit. Your story about SP is tragic enough, but it triggered (no, really, it’s ok, that’s a word I never expected to use and hope to never use again, but it fit) something I don’t think about often. The closest I ever came to suicide was in HS. It was damn close, too. Then I finally thought, it’s still an option, but let’s think of something else first. A few months later my bestie in college and I had our share of adolescent angst (I started college at 16. If you want to know about my HS experience, do the arithmetic) – but we’d laugh at ourselves and say We can’t kill ourselves, we’d fuck that up too, and then where would we be? It got us through.

    I hurt so bad for bullied kids, but yeah, esp. for lgbt kids whose parents are such narrow-minded shits they can’t love them because they’re close-minded morans.

    And let’s not go near hand gun control and suicide numbers… I was reading twitter World Suicide Prevention Day this am, and that’s pretty obvious.

    On one “happy” note, I’m very relieved that CA has an assisted suicide law in place. Because there are situations where it’s very useful. People shouldn’t have to drive into a bridge abutment to save their families…

    Yes I know that’s not the same thing. I actually think it’s important that the difference gets more discussed.

  21. 21
    Fair Economist says:

    So sorry about your friend SP. So unfair, to her and to you.

    You’re made of pretty tough stuff if you can cope with that kind of inner voice.

  22. 22
    MoxieM says:

    Also, I don’t know the numbers, but I’ll bet the numbers of women who are subjected to spousal abuse in all its morbid assortments (gaslighting, blames shifting, just plain lying; alienation of friends and family… … through harming or killing family pets, to domestic battery. ) And using children, if present, as bargaining chips. Or, as one woman I know, taking a kid out for visitation, and then killing him.

    Anyway all those people–we are fair game for suicidal ideation. I only made a couple of tries. I improved my technology (and since I live just south of New Hampster, d’oh! I could easily buy a gun and end the easy way.) But then the light slowly dawned over Marblehead, and I came to believe that my daughter would suffer all her life for my selfishness. I had signed on to be her mom forever, as best I can. Especially since her dad weaselled out on his duty of care, it was even more important. And so we go on.

  23. 23

    Major, so sorry to hear about your friend SP. She reminds me of my daughter who is 15 and struggling with being Bi in a very conservative place. She’s struggled with depression and anxiety since she was six (ironically my own struggles started at 6 as well). I’m also sadly familiar with your struggle against suicidal ideation. Over the years my pets and then later my kids give me the strength to tell that loathsome voice that says it’s okay to check out that ‘no, it isn’t because they love me and need me’. Folks like us are stronger and braver than the average non-depressed person can probably understand.

  24. 24
    silvery says:

    @SectionH: HS was a hell hole. I barely survived and got out at as soon as I could. Those were dark bleak days. I used to firmly believe that people who claimed that suicide never crossed their minds just weren’t being honest with themselves. I still engage in the self-bargains M^4 describes, but am mostly committed to seeing this life through its normal process. Life is much better now. The other major thing that helps is my four-legged family would never understand.

  25. 25
    SectionH says:

    @Sister Golden Bear: Well, I think I get that. There’s never any let up. And pitiful small back up.

  26. 26

    @SectionH: Totally agree on the death-with-dignity stuff.

  27. 27

    @silvery:

    I used to firmly believe that people who claimed that suicide never crossed their minds just weren’t being honest with themselves.

    Yes! Right?

    And believe it or not, for a while there I firmly believed that every straight guy was also into dudes because, I mean, I was into dudes, and I’d always been told *I* was straight.

  28. 28
    silvery says:

    @Major Major Major Major: As if growing up wasn’t confusing enough. I’m not sure how I wouldv’e handled something like that for myself. Glad you made it through.

  29. 29
    SectionH says:

    @MoxieM: Y’know, one of the most important messages my Mom ever gave me was why you shouldn’t kill yourself. She just said, Fine, you’re dead and not hurting. Think about the people who love you. What that does to them. That sunk in. BUT she was telling me that before we left civilization for Redneckia. So never too early to tell your kids you’ll love them no matter what.

  30. 30
    SectionH says:

    @SectionH: And then, yeah, I had lots of people who loved me. That’s where I just start freaking for those kids who not only don’t have people who support them, but have pigeon shit asshole shits for parents.

  31. 31
    sgrAstar says:

    Thank you, M^4, for reminding me to be a better person.

  32. 32
    SectionH says:

    @MoxieM: Oh yeah. Like the horribly miserably sad women who drive into rivers with their kids. Yeah plural. They’re like a zillionth of a % compared to – let’s not go there. But if you want a picture of despair – or call it escape?

    The kid or the husband? Hoping it was the husband. That’s the way you do it.

  33. 33
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    I am still unable to access Balloon Juice except on my phone via 4G (Verizon). Any device with wi-fi gets the error message:

    server IP address could not be found.
    DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN

    I have rebooted browsers, my phone and computer, my router and my cable modem, to no avail. I also flushed the DNS cache on my computer. Any insight from anyone?

    I wonder if the CDN problem screwed up DNS addresses or lookups somehow.

  34. 34

    @Steeplejack (phone): that is exactly what happened. It is propagating. Phone didn’t work until 7pm and a reboot for me.

    I’m off to bed folks!

  35. 35
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    Just rebooted my phone again. No luck.

  36. 36
    Ella in New Mexico says:

    Thank you, major, for this poignant memory, and for your honesty.

    Whether it’s people we know or love or ourselves the dark work of the trickster Suicide’s persuasion touches us all, but for some, it wins. Those of us who have survived hearing it’s devilish calls in our own heads, working to convince us of the “truth”: that we’re irredeemable, that we really have nothing good or special to offer the world, that everyone would be better off without us getting in their way anyway–we are the blessed because only we can speak with genuine truth to others hearing its call.

    Everyone needs to remember it’s a LIE. A trick. A con. It’s not the whole truth, not even 50%. Every single day is a chance to start anew and take your life anywhere you want it to go. You have two options in this world: see life for all it’s terribleness, or see it for all it’s beauty and potential. Both are “true”, so why not pick the one where you get to make a difference?

    Telling THAT truth is the work we can do to save lives.

  37. 37
    Miss Bianca says:

    Hey, M^4, late to party as usual, but just wanted to say your suicide prevention self-talk made me laugh-cry at the same time. Sounds so much like what I’ve gone thru’, and my friends as well. My social circle in high school was a bunch of brilliant, morbidly depressed girls – I was the “hey, let’s not kill ourselves this weekend, let’s go to the movies!” court jester of the group. Lord. Still dealing with the aftermath of that.

    Will say that in the cases where I seriously contemplated killing myself – not that I really wanted to, because WIMP – but just really, really didn’t see the point in being alive anymore, going to counseling helped – not much of the actual counseling was good, but just making the effort seemed to help. Also, the latest episode, which was about 7-8 years ago, anti-depressants also helped. I took a very low dose of generic Zoloft for about a year, quit when it looked like I would be able to make it on my own without the chemical crutch. But I will never hesitate to go back to it if I need to.

  38. 38
    Gelfling 545 says:

    We lost my nephew to suicide just about a year ago. He was the well beloved child of a very close & loving family. Had a good job and a ton of friends. He’d been to the doctor; he had the meds. For some reason he just couldn’t. And we, his survivors, just have to accept that. He just couldn’t and we won’t ever know why.

  39. 39
    humboldtblue says:

    @SectionH:

    “My death does not belong to me,” she concludes, because “it’s the others who would live my death.” Beauvoir, the Mandarins

    “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee? But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” Camus

    .

    I’m having a cup of coffee.

  40. 40
    FelonyGovt says:

    Major Major Major Major- big (virtual) hug to you.

    As the parent of a gay daughter, I am so saddened for her friends whose families have kicked them out or refused to accept them. I’ve tried to be something of a mom figure to them, but how can you make up for the hurt when someone’s family turns on you because of who they are.

  41. 41
    FelonyGovt says:

    Turns on THEM because of who they are

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