Photo: The Trevor Project
Yesterday began National Suicide Prevention Week (September 5-11) and suicide prevention organizations have community outreach activities and awareness programs going on all week. There is a list of several events across the US here.
One of the organizations that has always impressed the heck out of me is The Trevor Project. Trevor is the only national suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth. The organization was born from a 1998 film for HBO called Trevor, about a 13-year-old boy who is rejected by his friends because of his sexuality and then attempts to take his own life. The producers recognized that far too many members of the HBO audience would be in similar situations and considering the same things. Now the organization has 24/7 helplines nationwide; online resources for youth and their families, friends, and educators; and a social calendar filled with great fund-raising events to help get out the word.
Working at a suicide prevention hotline takes a special kind of volunteer, but if you are cut out for it, I hope you already are doing it or will seriously consider that sort of volunteering. In the 1980s I worked on the information hotline for AIDS Project Los Angeles, which was predominantly about getting accurate information out there (this was still a time when AIDS was not well understood and people were afraid of catching it from a sneeze or a hug or being in the same room with someone who had HIV. It was also a time of misunderstanding when it was believed the only people at risk were the “4-H” groups—hypodermic needle users, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and Haitians—we know so much more now, but there was an awful lot of fear and misunderstanding on the other end of those phone lines. Our hotline volunteer education and training was extensive, and of course we were trained to take a potential suicide call if one came in (HIV diagnosis–when testing took 2 agonizing weeks–was then considered a slow and painful death sentence of wasting away from pneumonia or Kaposi’s Sarcoma–things we rarely hear any more). Lot’s of hopelessness and despair. I will always remember the weeknight evening I was working the lines and training a new volunteer who listened in and “shadowed” me on the phones as I answered the usual calls about how no, you didn’t need to worry about contracting HIV from a public toilet seat, when a young man called in with both method and plan to take his own life. (Method/means and plan are the two things we were to look out for. Someone saying “I have a gun and I’m going to kill myself as soon as we hang up” is different than someone saying, “I don’t want to live any more, I just don’t see the point.”) SO often, people who don’t see options and have come to a difficult conclusion that ending it will be easier, truly just want to be heard, and seen, and listened to, and understood, and acknowledged for the crap they are going through.
That 90-minute call I had changed my perspective from that day forward, worked out well for the young man for at least another day, and it took the wind out of my sails in a huge way. Suicide prevention hotline volunteers go through those calls all the time. They are expertly trained, but it is a huge responsibility every time the phone rings. It is brilliant work that I am not cut out for, but have boundless admiration for those that can do it. Would you consider it? If not, would you consider supporting those that do?
Some Facts About Suicide:
In America, more than 32,000 people die by suicide each year (2005 Center for Disease Control).
Suicide is one of the top three causes of death among 15 to 24-year-olds; only accidents and homicide occur more
frequently (2006 National Adolescent Health Information).
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college campuses (2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made
(2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their
heterosexual peers (Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey).
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more
likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (2007 San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute).