UT Study Hopes to Curb LGBTQ Suicide Rates
By Clark Dalton
In April 2021, Lilith, a University of Texas student, attempted taking her own life rather than starting her first year of college.
“Most people have idealized versions of themselves, someone they’re going to become one day,” Lilith said. “I never saw this person at the end of the road so I started to think to myself what’s the point.”
If it had not been for a friend finding her and calling the ambulance, she wouldn’t be here today. Aid arrived before the noose in which she placed her neck – and the desperation enveloping her – took hold.
The University of Texas at Austin and UT Southwestern Medical Center have launched the nation’s first study of suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. They hope their efforts will provide a roadmap to better treatments helping counselors save more lives. Unfortunately, suicide statistics for LGBTQ youth have illuminated a bleak image.
New studies indicate suicidal thoughts increased in 2021.
The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization, discovered more than 40% of individuals between the ages of 13 and 24 seriously considered suicide in the past year.
Lilith, a pseudonym to protect her privacy, added she had attempted suicide five previous times since turning 16 years old.
“You feel like there is no road out,” she said. “So you wonder why keep going when you can just stop the pain sooner? I don’t see a good outcome where I’m not in pain, so it’s more merciful to take myself out.”
Lilith said the constant weight of depression felt unbearable at points because she felt trapped and had no one to turn toward.
Lilith is not an outlier, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. LGTBQ youth are at a much higher risk because they face problems like social isolation and discrimination.
Eventually, these problems can compound and lead to depression or anxiety, which could result in suicidal thoughts.
Another problem is access to professional help. The Trevor Project reported nearly 50% of LGBTQ youth wanted mental health counseling from a professional but didn’t receive it in 2021.
These unfulfilled requests can leave some feeling they have nowhere to turn, adding to their sense of helplessness.
Sara, another UT student, said it was hard for her to find a light at the end of the tunnel when she was battling mental health problems daily.
“For a long time I thought to myself if it ends right here, OK,” Sara, also using a pseudonym, said. “What I mean by that is if I were driving down the street and I died randomly I just wouldn’t care that my life ended.”
It’s also difficult to deal with family members who fail to tolerate someone coming out. Lilith and Sara both said it was harder to talk about their struggles since they felt like certain family members weren’t very accepting and just didn’t listen.
Philip Schnarrs, a professor at Dell Medical School and the leader of the study in Austin, remembers feeling this way when he was a teenager.
“It’s hard because you feel removed from everything,” Schnarrs said. “You’re facing so many societal stigmas that it can be hard to talk about what you’re feeling. This prevents people from getting the care they need.”
Schnarrs states he kept this fact in mind while designing the study.
The study is going to take 600 adults from Dallas and Austin areas who have already had thoughts about suicide. The participants will then be split into two groups. One group will connect them with mental health care professionals, while the other group will consist of a support system chosen by the patient.
The second group is a key component in the study because it provides emotional support and encourages the use of mental health services. Schnarrs views this as a good way to have brief suicide intervention he describes as one of the pivotal points in the study.
“Most of the time we take action after something bad happens,” Schnarrs said. “In this study, we want to take action before a suicide attempt is made by having a support group around someone so they can identify when this person is beginning to struggle. They can then lift them or guide them to help so they don’t hurt themselves.”
Isaac, a former UT student, said he found this to be more effective when he was dealing with personal problems. Isaac also asked that his true name not be revealed for this story to protect his privacy. These students’ identity have been protected, not because of their sexual identity but due to their struggles with mental health and thoughts of suicide.
“I feel like it can be hard to talk to a counselor who isn’t gay, lesbian or transgender because you don’t know if they’re listening to you,” Isaac said. “However, when you have a friend or a group it’s easier because you know they care about you.”
Schnarrs says it’s still early but the results they’re seeing in the study are promising. He also says they they will go to primary care clinics and try to help people who are beginning to develop suicidal thoughts.
Many people go to primary care but don’t seek further mental health. Early intervention in primary care is seen as a possible way to stop suicides earlier.
Lilith said she’s doing much better and hopes that these results can eventually help more people her age overcome demons that are hard to escape.
“I wish I had more people to go to during this time,” Lilith said. “I had some people, but when I entered those spiraling moments of depression, I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Schnarrs is optimistic that this study will lead to more research into the topic and lead to better findings later on helping people avoid these dark tides.
“We’re taking a big step just by starting this,” Schnarrs said. “This issue is one that we’ve needed to talk about for a long time. That’s what makes it so important and I believe it will make things better.”