Preventing Suicide by Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth

NAMI New Hampshire
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NH’s young folks are watching – let’s rise to the moment by promoting mental health for all

Lives are at stake.

Across the nation, countless bills have been filed that seek to limit the ability of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially young people, to live and thrive as their authentic selves. Here in the Granite State, these legislative attempts take several forms, including restrictions on access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms, bans on trans youth participation in sports, limits on expression in schools, and prohibitions on crucial healthcare for transgender young adults.

Dr. Christine Crawford, Associate Medical Director of NAMI National, recently shared in a NAMI NH Annual Conference keynote on children’s mental health that LGBTQ+ youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. Here in NH suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death for Granite Staters ages 15 to 34. Dr. Crawford stated “lives are at stake” – and that we share a collective responsibility to address the mental health needs of all our young people, including working to eradicate discrimination in our society

“Lives are at stake.” This simple sentiment suddenly brought me back to 2008 and the aftermath of my then 19-year-old and not-yet-out-to-me non-binary child’s suicide attempt. My world shattered. I found myself sobbing in my car – and living in near constant fear that they would make another attempt.  I returned to doing something I had not done since my children were babies – sneaking into their rooms and checking they were still breathing while they slept. The following fall, my child returned to college. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was leave them there on campus that day. 

As an advocate, I often share why I do this work – because I raised a child with a serious mental illness. I often talk about my experience raising my child when I am advocating for children and families. But this was not the child who made the attempt. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, I know. It marks you forever. I am not the same person I was before my child’s suicide attempt. I doubt I will ever not worry about my children, their health and wellness, and their safety. But I do make sure to savor every moment of love and joy we share – and am deeply grateful for that.

Far too many parents have lost a child to suicide – including in my own extended family. I work with many folks who have experienced what no parent ever should. Many eloquently share their heartbreaking loss to advocate for systems change to prevent suicide and ensure our children can access the essential care they need to thrive. Many others may not publicly speak but call and email me encouraging NAMI NH to continue to advocate on these issues and protect our youth.  

Indeed, our goal must be to protect all children. We neither can nor should control their sense of self – who they are and who they will become. But we have an obligation to ensure every child in NH is valued for their authentic self – the alternative is too heartbreaking to bear.

Yes, we are seeing discriminatory legislation proposed across the nation. But New Hampshire can do better. Our state is filled with caring, brave individuals and families who pride themselves on being strong as granite. We can work together to protect parents from experiencing the profound loss of a child to suicide. And we can tell our young people you are accepted here just as you are because this is your home. It’s far past time to show our children we mean it when we say we want to prevent youth suicide and promote mental health for all. New Hampshire’s children, youth, and young adults are watching – let’s rise to the moment and focus our joint efforts on defeating harmful and discriminatory legislation, and supporting policies that promote mental wellness.

Susan Stearns is a mom who is profoundly grateful to report that her children are well and thriving today. She did not get it when her child came out to her and most definitely could have responded better had she taken the time to educate herself with the literature on the subject available in school and public libraries. Susan is employed as the Executive Director at NAMI New Hampshire.