Our community lost two teens to suicide this past month. Both young people identified as LGBTQIA, which encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity among people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. We are grieving with the families and friends who have lost these two young people. Our grief and sadness are not enough. We must save more kids, preventing youth suicide by standing up against bullying that leads to depression and despair.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24 in the United States, resulting in nearly 6,500 lives lost each year, according to the PA Youth Survey. A study conducted by the Trevor Project indicates that suicide rates among young people who identify as LGBTQ+ are much higher, and 68% of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identify, or gender expression. This is beyond bullying- this is discrimination and harassment. Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, age, sex, or disability.
Schools have an important responsibility to protect kids from all kinds of bullying, discrimination and harassment, especially due to gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression. LGBTQ middle and high school students with access to at least one school-related protective factor, like a trusted adult, have 26% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year, according to a recent research study conducted by The Trevor Project.
Lancaster County has approximately 110,185 students enrolled in K-12 schools. The PA Youth Survey (PAYS), 2021 asks Lancaster County students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 anonymous questions including mental health status. Over 25% of students in Lancaster County indicated they were victims of bullying in the past 12 months, that’s an estimated 27,546 victims of bullying in our community, or 8,475 if we include just grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. Bullying victims feel alone and sad when no one steps in to rescue them, especially true when adults fail to stop bullying.
Depression is the number one risk factor for suicide by teens. The most common depressed thought that our youth experience in Lancaster County (PAYS) is “at times I think I am no good at all,” reported by 37.6% of students in our community, about 41,430 kids across K-12, or 12,748 in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. And 38.5% of students reported they felt sad or depressed most days in the past 12 months, an estimated 42,421 kids K-12 or 13,053 in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. Nearly 18% of students have seriously considered attempting suicide, an alarming 19,833 kids K-12 or 6,103 in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12.
Victims of bullying, discrimination, and harassment because of gender, sexual orientation, or sexual expression experience much higher rates of depression. Our young people are hurting so deeply with depression that they feel suicide is the only option to end the hurt they are experiencing. This is not ok. All children deserve to feel safe, healthy, loved, and accepted for who they are, including especially our LGBTQ kids.
It is our responsibility, for all of us, as adults, to keep kids safe. This is especially true for adults who work with kids in schools, healthcare, mental health, and community settings such as after-school programs, faith communities, sports programs, and clubs. Yet, we often fail to protect our kids. We may fail to acknowledge the pain and hurt they experience. Or perhaps we belittle their deep emotions as teenage angst. This must stop. All kids’ feelings are valid. Children rely on us as trusted adults to validate their emotions.
It is time for all of us to stand up against hate, bullying, discrimination, harassment, and shaming of all kinds. Witnessing this egregious behavior as a bystander and not intervening to stop the bully is akin to giving the bully power, furthering the hurt that the victim experiences in that moment. That is why victims of bullying feel so alone and experience such high rates of depression. It takes courage to step in and stand up against a bully, but the victim should not shoulder than courage alone.
We call on all adults in our Lancaster County community to be decent humans towards our children. If a kid is hurting, we must help them heal. We must ensure they are not alone. We need to listen and validate their emotions, and we connect them with resources to support them in their journey towards safety and security. We need to help kids live and thrive.
If you or someone you love needs access to mental health care, including suicide prevention, please call 9-8-8 or text HOME to 741741. For LGBTQ support, visit The Trevor Project suicide hotline, call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. More resources are available at www.touchstonefound.org.
Officers of the Board of Touchstone Foundation: youth mental wellness partners, including Carli Youndt, MSN, Chair, Pat Anderson, DO, Secretary, Carrie Smith, PhD, Vice Chair, Wayne Groff, CPA, Treasurer, and Anna Brendle Kennedy, Executive Director.