(Trigger Warning: Suicide)
This past Sunday Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17-year-old in Ohio, took her own life. Hours after her death (which was reported in the media under her given name Joshua Alcorn) her suicide note appeared online. It had been preset to post on her Tumblr blog under the sobering title, “Suicide Note.” It opens like this…
If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in…”
“My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s f**ked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
So what does this all mean? What are we to do with this story? Can hope come from this tragedy?
What it means is that Leelah got to a moment in her young life where suicide felt like the right answer. It means the crushing depression she felt wasn’t being cared for and the rejection she received made her feel caged beyond hope. It means that over 203,000 others on Tumblr (most other teens) relate to, agree with, or find themselves within a similar struggle and may even agree with Leelah’s decision. It means that a young person in America is struggling right now. They might be facing rejection, confusion, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or feel trapped by a mental illness that they are receiving little or no treatment for. It means that right now someone in the US will take their life every 13 minutes and of the 110 a day over a dozen will be teens. It means that although Leelah’s final decision is heartbreakingly troubling, and I feel tragically unnecessary, her closing statement couldn’t be more true. The situation we are all living in in regards to mental health and the stigma that surrounds is f'ed up and we need to fix it.
It’s time to take action. This isn’t a time for opinions or judgment. It is a time for positive action. It is time to break the silence. It is a time for unconditional and often uncomfortable love and caring for those around you. It is time to learn the warning signs, spot them in those around, and start conversations. The warning signs were there for Leelah. A representative survey of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals showed that 41% had attempted suicide (many noting the attempt was partially motivated by discrimination). We can also see Leelah was publicly struggling with loneliness, rejection, isolation, and made/reposted statements dealing with suicidal thoughts and deaths. We have no way of knowing what other warning signs she was showing to others in her offline world including to her family, her friends, her school, and her church all which she felt distanced or distanced herself from. We can assume that in the closing hours she felt that posting her suicide postmortem was a decision that allowed her to not feel the judgement or support that she couldn’t predict.
Who do you know who might be struggling? Who’s behavior has changed? Were they outgoing and now reject every invitation? Who is acting angrily or pushing away others? Are they isolating themselves? Who has been increasing their use of drugs or alcohol? Are they being destructive to themselves or those around them? 1 in 4 adults will suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. I’ll say that again, 1 in 4! This suffering from a mental disorder such as depression is the leading cause of suicidal thoughts. Feeling hopeless their thinking can become clinically constricted, limiting reasoning.
In all truth many of us will ignore those struggling around us. Perhaps it’s that girl at school who sits in the corner who you heard have a heated conversation with their parent between classes. Perhaps it’s that guy in the cubical next to yours who you know is going through a nasty divorce and is starting to call into work more often. Maybe your child has been going through a hard time at school and seeming to harden up emotionally. Maybe it’s your online friend who just posted the status, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this." It could even be a stranger or online only friend, like Leelah was to so many, who is facing rejection or has no allies or feels so very alone. We might assume they have a plan to get help, that they have someone else to talk to, or that you are not qualified to make a difference. We may feel like we have nothing to offer or that we don't fully understand their problem. They may never ask you for help and in truth they may feel like they are asking for help by their actions. You don't have to all the answers. You only have to have the willingness to help. Please, consider your intuition that something is wrong as an invitation to help.
Almost any effort to help without judgment and with intention to increase hope is shown to decrease suicidal risk. Meet with them in a comfortable and quiet setting. Start the conversation. State your concern and that you care. Ask them open ended questions and REALLY listen. Reiterate what they say or how they feel to make sure you understand. And here is the hard part, if you are concerned they might be suicidal ask directly, “Have you been thinking about suicide?” This does not increase their risk and if they are thinking about it this assures them that you are truly willing to help them get through this. Develop a plan for life, next steps, counseling or support groups to connect to, and other people you can talk to together about continued help. If they are not suicidal asking about it does not "give them ideas". It allows them to see how deeply you care and are concerned. From there become part of a team of others that care for and can be trusted while continuing to support them without judgement through getting better. Alternatively you can call a crisis hotline together or share that information with them while expressing your concern.
This is not a time for silence. If there is hope that can come from the tragedy of Leelah Acorn it is found in the conversations and efforts for change. Live Again wishes to extend our condolences to Leelah’s family, friends, and online confidants. Live Again’s hope is to become part of the solution to prevent these tragedies through conversation tools, printed resources in common spaces, online resources, prevention trainings, support groups, awareness events, and more. However, at the center of every effort is the power of a personal, caring, judgment-free conversation prompted by concern for others or personal struggle. If you are struggling, please ask for help from someone you trust. If they can’t help keep asking until you find someone who can. If you know someone is struggling, please offer hope by starting the conversation. Let’s break the silence. Let’s fix this.
Suicide: The Final Decision book (free PDF of the helpful book for anyone struggling or concerned)
If you are currently struggling with suicidal thoughts or are worried about someone we would suggest the following available resources:
* National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
* Lines for Life: (800)-SUICIDE or (800) 273-8255
* Youthline: A peer-to-peer crisis line for teens (every day from 4pm to 10 pm), (877) 968-8491 or text teen2teen to 839863
* Crisis Text Line: For those who prefer not to call, text LISTEN to 741741
*IMAlive: Crisis intervention through instant message (limited hours)
* If you are in an immediate emergency please call 911
More at Need Help Now section