Transgender youth and adults have far higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than the average person. Consider these research findings:
- The suicide rate among transgender adults in an international study was almost 800 per 100,000. In comparison, the suicide rate in the U.S. for all people is 13 per 100,000. (That study is briefly described in this article.)
- 41% of transgender adults report having ever attempted suicide, compared to 5% of adults in the general population and 10 to 20% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, according to a U.S. study of almost 6,500 people.
- Almost half of adolescents in a small U.S. study had seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 4 reported a suicide attempt.
A Hearbreaking Example: Leelah Alcorn
The plight of many trans people is prominent on the national radar right now, following the suicide this week of a 17-year-old trans girl named Leelah Alcorn.
Leelah (born Joshua) grew up in a Midwestern, Christian family. She posted an impassioned suicide note online, explaining that she saw no hope for a better life. She was convinced that she would only feel worse, due to the discrimination, family rejection, and emotional hardship she already experienced and saw ahead.
“I’m never going to be happy,” Leelah wrote in her note. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse.”
While Leelah’s circumstances sound intensely painful, they alone cannot account for her suicide. Otherwise, everyone who feels deeply unhappy and trapped would die by suicide.
Instead, depression or some other force twisted her thinking so badly that she thought her predictions for her future would absolutely come true. This distorted thinking made her mistake her fears for facts.
At the tender age of 17, she thought the only way out of her misery was death. She was not thinking rationally.
The Other Side of the Story
The media often focus on the painful aspects of being transgender. The suicides. The oppression. The job and housing discrimination. The violence.
Bad news is interesting. Good news is boring.
Yet the news is not all bad. Even though transgender people face many stresses, there are a great many who succeed at love and work.
In response to Leelah’s suicide, scores of trans people are tweeting about their happiness and successes using the hashtag #RealLifeTransAdult.
Married. Kids. Career in a conservative industry. Writer. Activist. Found love. Depression survivor. Transitioned at 38. #RealLifeTransAdult
— Brynn Tannehill (@BrynnTannehill) December 30, 2014
If you’re a trans teen and you can’t imagine your life going forward, I’m 39, I’m a professor and blogger, and I’m happy #RealLifeTransAdult
— Ramona Peel (@DKSB17) December 30, 2014
The Positive Aspects of Transgender Identity
One research study looked at the good things that trans people have reported about being transgender. The study identified 8 “positive aspects of a transgender identity”:
- Congruency of self (that is, feeling the positive effects of living life authentically)
- Enhanced interpersonal relationships
- Personal growth and resiliency
- Increased empathy
- A unique perspective on both sexes
- Living beyond the sex binary
- Increased activism
- Connection to the GLBTQ communities
Yes, the negative effects of transphobia (fear and oppression of transgender people) are profound. We as a society desperately need to change our responses to trans people.
Even so, many transgender people live full lives and find benefits to their transgender identity. The more that message gets out, the better.
If You are Trans and Considering Suicide…
No matter how happy or successful trans people can be, there are many trans youth and adults who think of suicide. If you are one of them, please consider turning to one of these places:
- Trans Lifeline – (877) 565-8860
The Trans Lifeline is for transgender people of all ages. It is not staffed 24 hours a day, so check the website for hours.
- Trevor Lifeline – 866-488-7386 (Available 24/7)
The Trevor Lifeline is a hotline for trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth (ages 13 – 24).
- TrevorText – To start, text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200. Available only on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time (1 – 4 p.m. Pacific time).
TrevorText is the cousin of the Trevor Lifeline, for trans and other sexual minority youth ages 13 – 24.
- TrevorChat – Go to http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now and click on the link to chat, or click here.
Trevor Chat is available to youth from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time (12 to 6 p.m. Pacific time).
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is for anyone, while the other hotlines are specifically for trans people (Trans Lifeline) or sexual minority youth (Trevor Lifeline).
- The Resources page on this site: www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp
The Resources page contains information about places where you can talk to someone anonymously, whether via phone, chat, text, or email.
For Allies: Preventing Suicide Before Suicidal Thoughts Ever Happen
There are also steps people can take to help prevent a transgender person from ever getting to the point of being suicidal:
- Honor the trans person’s preferred name and pronouns. It is not up to you to decide how a trans person should be called. It is up to them.
- Do not “out” someone who has rejected their biological sex. Whether to disclose their gender identity, and to whom, is up to transgender people. Great harm, whether psychological, physical, or economical, can come to people whose trans status is disclosed against their will. (Click here for a heartbreaking account of a trans woman who died by suicide after a journalist outed her to her business associates.)
- Refrain from any judgment, blame, or suggestions that the person should not identify as transgender. I know this advice sounds elementary. But then why do so many people not follow it? Leelah Alcorn said her parents told her “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Even if this is what you believe, what good can come of your rejecting a person’s identity?
- Show love. Again, this might seem like another no-brainer. Oh well, I will state the obvious because it is so important: Express love, support, and understanding to the trans people in your life. There is no such thing as too much love or support, but the effects of too little are devastating.
- Advocate for the protection of trans people’s civil rights. You can do this in many ways: Come to the defense of a peer who is verbally abused. Educate peers. Lobby your school or workplace for gender-neutral restrooms. Volunteer with or contribute money to an organization that helps trans youth and others, organizations like The Trevor Project, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Trans Advocacy Network.
If everyone followed these steps, how much would suicidal thinking, suicide attempts, and suicide go down among trans people?
In the days and years ahead, I hope we have the chance to find out.
© Copyright 2015 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com
First photo purchased from Fotolia.com