Organizations across Pennsylvania, country take action for National Suicide Prevention Month

While suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24, LGB young people seriously consider suicide at almost three times the rate of their heterosexual peers.

Among the adult trans population, 40 percent of people report having attempted suicide. More than 90 percent of these folks indicate the attempts took place before age 25. 

September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, and both local organizations and those across the country have kicked off efforts to raise awareness about the issue and spread the word of available resources. 

Entercom, one of the two largest radio broadcasters in the United States, announced Tuesday a two-hour live, commercial-free broadcast special, “I’m Listening,” that aims to raise awareness around mental health. The stream will air nationwide Sept. 8 at the start of National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs through Sept. 14. Namesakes on the broadcast include popular music artists Lizzo, Shawn Mendes and Tegan and Sara, out lesbian indie-pop performers. 

Sara Quin, of the iconic LGBTQ music group, said in a release that “identity and mental health are intrinsically linked” because of double stigmas surrounding both LGBTQ discrimination and mental health. 

“It makes sense to me now, that if I don’t talk about my feelings, I’m not going to feel well, I’m not going to be well,” said Quin, who also founded The Tegan and Sara Foundation, which fights for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women. 

“Some of the staggering statistics surrounding queer people and mental health, we hope that by talking about some of our experiences as young people, that it will encourage others to do the same,” she added in the release.  

Dr. Yolanda Graham is the senior vice president and chief clinical and medical officer at national health care nonprofit Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, which has a center in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Graham said she often sees this dual stigmatization in her work at the center, which adopted the Gender Affirmative Model of care this summer and is certified by the Human Rights Campaign for practices that support LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents. 

“Suicide Awareness Month is really critical because it gives our country a time where we’re focusing on what education is needed and what resources are out there,” Graham said in an interview with PGN. “It’s a planned month where we’re focused on the unfortunate tragedy that’s occurring in our community and … how suicide affects so many lives, especially those of our kids and most especially those of our LGBTQ youth.”

To help combat the high rates of youth suicide, Graham said it’s important for people to be able to recognize warning signs: self-isolation, hopelessness, mood swings with aggressive tendencies, dramatic mood improvement that could signal accepting a “way out“ and changes to eating and sleeping patterns.

“We have to take advantage of the fact that our kids spend a majority of their time in school, so using the school setting as a medium to provide this type of education and preventive work is important,” she added to PGN. “Making sure that we put federal funding into counseling services within schools, because often teachers and administrators are aware when kids are struggling.”

At Entercom, the station’s LGBTQ talk radio network CHANNEL Q will further extend programming related to suicide awareness throughout National Suicide Prevention Week. From Sept. 9-13, all the channel’s shows will feature segments on mental health and suicide prevention. They will also include personal narratives from celebrities as well as mental health professionals. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in the country.

“It’s time that we put as much attention on mental health as we do physical health,” Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said in a statement. “It’s my hope that by sharing real stories of hope, healing and recovery through ‘I’m Listening,’ we can help others feel empowered to share more authentically and support one another in opening up, reaching out for help and getting to treatment, if needed.”

In addition to local LGBTQ organizations, including Devereux, William Way LGBT Health Center and Mazzoni Center, national resources available to those experiencing suicidal thoughts include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Trevor Project, Trans Lifeline and Crisis Text Line.