A major national study into the mental health of young people in Ireland has found startling rates of attempted suicide amongst LGBT people.
The My World research, conducted by Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, surveyed 8,221 people aged 17-25 and found that 24 per cent of those who identified as bisexual had attempted suicide.
The attempt rate amongst gay and lesbian people was 19 per cent, compared to six per cent of straight respondents.
Commenting on the findings, Secretary of DCU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Society, James Keogh, said: “The rate of attempted suicide amongst transgender individuals is higher again… It’s society’s attitude towards LGBT people that causes this rate, not being LGBT itself.”
BeLongTo Youth Services welcomed the research, with their advocacy co-ordinator Dr. Carol-Anne O’Brien stressing that support is available for young LGBT people.
LGBTA, as Keogh describes, “provides a friendly atmosphere where those questioning their sexuality or gender will be welcomed and informed… a place where you can be your own person without the pressure of secondary school peers or even parents”.
“There are people who were so nervous joining and it took all their courage just to sign up last year. Now they seem at home in the society and it’s wonderful to see. It’s such an easy way to meet people and make friends.”
The Headstrong research also found that more young people are going online to get information and support.
SpunOut.ie’s Youth Engagement Officer, John Buckley, explained: “Where SpunOut.ie comes in is providing a safe space online where young people can go anonymously in their own time and check out information about mental health issues, about LGBT issues, but also where they can find support.”
SpunOut.ie contains several pieces from young people sharing their experiences of mental ill-health, the coming out process, and more. This information helps young people see that they’re not alone, that “reaching out is a sign of strength and when they reach out there will be support there”, said Buckley.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn recently launched a new set of anti-bullying guidelines for schools, which include specific measures to tackle homophobic behaviour. “There’s a lot more that young people can learn about in schools around diversity”, Buckley said, adding “but that also needs to happen at home and in wider society. Everyone needs to be equal and respected as so.”
DCU SU Welfare Officer Lorna Finnegan works closely with the LGBTA Society and is already planning Equality Week, to take place at the end of semester.
“The main message during that week will be to encourage students to embrace diversity”, she said.
Another planned project will run along the lines of Pieta House’s ‘Mind Our Men’ campaign. As well as encouraging people to speak out if they are experiencing mental health difficulties, she feels “it’s just as important to educate people on the signs to look out for and how to approach the topic with someone they might be concerned about”.
Support and information is available via SpunOut.ie, BeLonGTo Services and their youth groups, as well as via organisations including Pieta House and 1 Life Suicide. LGBTA welcome new members year-round.