Study finds that suicide prevention lines could be letting down transgender callers

Trans Lifeline is a suicide prevention hotline (US: 1-877-565-8860 Canada: 1-877-330-6366)

Morty Diamond, a graduate student in San Francisco State University’s social work program is studying how suicide crisis lines handle calls from transgender people, and is discovering that a lack of understanding of trans issues could be letting at risk callers down.

Hugh Ryan, Take Apart: There’s a Suicide Problem Among Transgender Youths—and We Need to Help

You’ve probably heard about Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old transgender girl from Ohio who committed suicide after being rejected by her religious family. But you may not know about Blake Brockington, the 18-year-old black transgender activist and prom king from North Carolina who killed himself earlier this year. In the last six months, at least seven transgender teens have killed themselves. Most have been youths of color. Those are just the young people we know about: The kids who were out, the ones who left notes. It’s impossible to know how many transgender people take their lives each year. One study found that nearly 25 percent of transgender youths surveyed reported attempting suicide. In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41 percent of respondents had attempted suicide.

When “Johnny,” a young transgender man considering suicide, contacted the Web-based Lifeline Crisis Chat, one of his first questions for the volunteer counselor was “What is your understanding of transgender?”

The volunteer responded, “A male believing they are female, and wanting to get corrective surgery.”

Johnny quickly disconnected. He wasn’t really a teen. He was Morty Diamond, a graduate student in San Francisco State University’s social work program. For his thesis, Diamond is writing about digital technologies for transgender mental health. The chat quoted above was part of his research.

Diamond is concerned that even in times of personal crisis, transgender people are forced to lead “teachable moments”—educating people who are charged with helping them. For those in crisis, this can be yet another signal that they are abnormal or beyond help.

Trans Lifeline is a suicide prevention hotline (US: 1-877-565-8860 Canada: 1-877-330-6366) that deals specifically with trans issues. Their staff is well-educated on trans issues and many of the volunteers are trans themselves – a difference that could help save lives. They need funding and staffing. You can help by donating or by volunteering to staff their line.

The hotline averages about 60 calls a day—more than its volunteer staff can handle. Some of those calls are referrals from the Trevor Project, the NSPL, and other hotlines. It’s raised about $43,000 to cover expenses. [Greta] Martela has left her job as a software engineer to work on TLL full-time. Recently, she attended an American Association of Suicidology conference and was sad to find transgender issues were rarely discussed.

Here in Indiana, the Indiana Youth Group is also tackling this issue on many fronts. In addition to providing a youth center where trans young people are respected and can find support and education, they also support a network of LGBT student organizations throughout the state of Indiana that provide help to trans and gender-diverse youth.

IYG is also planning an initiative to train health care providers – the folks who trans youth often turn to in times of crisis – to better understand trans issues, so their counseling and medical training will come from a place of understanding about how to help trans people in crisis. We will write more about that training program as it gets started, including how health care providers can get involved in the training.

Crisis Lines

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