'It's a real problem' Why self-harm rates are far higher for young LGBT teenagers 2 years ago

'It's a real problem' Why self-harm rates are far higher for young LGBT teenagers

mental health month

"The fear, whether real or perceived, can be really hard.”

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Rates of self harm and suicidal ideation are far higher for young gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers.

A 2016 report commissioned by Belong To and GLEN found that over half (56 percent) of LGBT teens in Ireland had self harmed.

Of the group of 14-18 year olds surveyed, 70 percent also said that they had considered suicide.

A study commissioned in Australia showed that young LGBT people were five times more likely to attempt suicide, with transgender people over the age of 18 being eleven times more likely.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 16 and over were six times more likely to experience suicidal ideation, with 15.15 percent saying that they had had suicidal thoughts over the past two weeks.

The study also found that young LGBT people in Australia were almost twice as likely to engage in self harm. A survey in the US found that they were two and a half times more likely. 

So why are the rates of self harm and suicide ideation so much higher for young gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

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Belong To's executive director Moninne Griffith says that a lot of the time, LGBT teens find themselves living in fear of rejection by their friends, their family, or their classmates.

She explains that for many LGBT people, their teenage years tend to be the most difficult.

“12 is the most common age to know that you’re different," she says. "16 is the most common age to come out, and those four years in between are really high risk ages for young LGBT people."

“There’s a fear before you come out, a fear when you haven’t told anybody. It’s an anxious and isolating time."

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Griffith says that the high rates of suicide ideation and self harm among LGBT teens are often triggered by the fear of rejection, isolation, or bullying in school.

She says that young people in this position need to know that they're not feeling this way because they're LGBT, but because of the stigma that still exists.

“Once they do come out safely, and when they have that support from their friends and family, it can significantly reduce the anxiety and the stress," she says.

"You don’t feel like you're hiding anymore. It really helps to talk and to come out when it’s safe to do so. It releases a lot of that pressure.”

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Griffith says that although there is more of an awareness around mental illness in Ireland, there are still significant numbers of young people presenting to Belong To with suicide ideation.

A lot of the time, there is a "double stigma" that comes with being a young LGBT person.

“We’re finding that a lot of young LGBT people are still not reaching out," she says, "even if help is available, and we’re trying to find out why that is."

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"It’s almost like a double stigma - young people find it hard to come out, but then when they do come out, they worry that they’ll struggle with their mental health."

“Despite the marriage referendum, there is still a stigma, life is still hard. We’re still regularly dealing with young people being made homeless, there’s a lot of work to be done. This fear, whether real or perceived, can be really hard.”

Griffith says that once a young person finds the courage to speak out, things do tend to get better. However, she acknowledges that this isn't a possibility for many young people and that there are counsellors out there who are not trained to provide appropriate support.

“A lot of counselling services do advertise as being LGBT friendly now which is great," she says.

"But it’s important for all providers to receive training on the language they’re using. Something as simple as having a rainbow symbol in a window or on a door is really positive.

"A young person knows that they can come out to that counsellor and it won’t be a big deal."

Most of the people who contact Belong To services are between the ages of 14 and 18.

If a person is in a crisis, they might be signposted to Samaritans, to a counsellor from Pieta House, or to an in-house counsellor to give them the help they need as soon as possible.

The service also runs ongoing peer support groups. Here, young LGBT people can meet other teenagers who may be going through similar things, which Griffith says is "huge" for dealing with feelings of isolation and rejection.

"Other people get to talk about their lives and whoever’s there might get to say ‘Hey that happens to me too.'"

Belong To's LadyBirds group for "young LBT gals and non-binary pals" runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

You can find out more about their peer group sessions and the services Belong To offer here. 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie


November is Mental Health Month on Her, where we'll be talking to you and the experts about some of the common - and the not so common - disorders and conditions affecting women in Ireland today. 

You can follow the rest of our Mental Health Month series here. 

Want to get in touch? Email me at Jade@her.ie.