Magazine True Life and Opinions Young, gay and suicidal Words by Ian Howley | @ianhowley THE SILENT VICTIMS Last month, Stonewall released some statistics to do with bullying and being gay. This year, 75,000 young people will be bullied simply for being LGBT, and 21,000 of them will attempt suicide. Does this shock you? It should, but it probably won’t. Why? Chances are you are a gay man who at some point in his life thought about ending it all. I know I did. In fact I was one of those who attempted it, several times. My story is like many: I struggled with my sexuality at an early age, denied that I was gay, hated myself, thought something was wrong with me. Between the ages of 12 and 15 I tried to take my life several times. But why? Was someone bullying me? Were my classmates calling me gay or faggot? Did I get beaten up for having a lisp, and a mince in my walk? The answer is no, no and no. No-one ever bullied me for being gay, said anything or did anything to me. I was one of those young gay teens who went completely under the radar and no-one suspected a thing. So why did I want to kill myself? My main problem as a teen was that I didn’t see a future for myself. I couldn’t see myself having a boyfriend, a husband and kids. I couldn’t see a future, when you become depressed seeing yourself in the future becomes almost impossible. This is when death becomes a valid option. It seemed like the best option for me. Luckily, I was strong enough to overcome the depression in my teens. It took years but eventually I got myself on track. I came out at the age of 18 and life got better. 12 years on I’m now married and the editor of a gay men’s health magazine – the total opposite of where I (didn’t) see myself. Anti-homophobia campaigns have always been about stopping the bullying of gay people. But bullying doesn’t just affect the person who is being bullied. It has a greater social impact. Bullying creates a fear in people. No-one wants to be bullied, and I nearly killed myself over a fear of being bullied. Stonewall has estimated that 21,000 young people will attempt to kill themselves this year. I think the real figure is even higher. If I had managed to kill myself as a teenager, the reason for it would probably never have been known. It’s great that we can throw out statistics about how many gay people are being bullied, but what about the gay teens who are not being bullied but still attempt or die by suicide for being gay? How do we reach them? Stonewall’s anti-homophobia campaigns are making a huge impact on homophobia in schools. However more needs to be done. I think it’s ridiculous that 75,000 young gay people will be bullied for being gay. If we can stop this then it will obviously have an a knock-on effect for the gay teens who aren’t being bullied. But we shouldn’t just leave this to Stonewall. Poor mental health and self-esteem are issues that other organisations are trying to address too. LGBT people who don’t value themselves tend to make poor decisions when it comes to alcohol, drugs, sex, relationships, body image, etc. This is why we all need to be focusing on the mental health and self-esteem of all LGBT teens. If we can get gay teens to value themselves more then it will have a beneficial impact when it comes to their physical health. We can’t stop everyone from being an asshole. We can try and limit bullying, but if we help young gay teens to be mentally stronger then we have a better chance of making sure it’s not just the bullied teens that fall through the cracks. Please don’t forget our silent victims. They need us too. Don’t be a bystander Stonewall’s ‘No bystanders’ campaign comes in response to shocking figures from research that reveal that more than 75,000 young people will be bullied this year simply for being LGBT, and 21,000 of them will attempt suicide. Homophobic bullying and abuse can have a devastating impact on young people’s self-esteem. It is reported that one in three gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying change their plans for future education because of it. James Taylor, Stonewall’s Head of Policy, says: “We’re asking individuals and groups to do their bit to tackle abuse and prejudice that still blights too many lives. More than half of gay pupils experience verbal bullying and one in six experience physical abuse.” For more information about this campaign, visit www.stonewall.org.uk/abw “I need help now!” If you are in crisis and need support or someone to talk to right now, Samaritans is there for you no matter where you are or what age you are. Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide. Call: 08457 90 90 90, or email: [email protected] You can contact the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 or www.llgs.org.uk, or find details of local switchboards and organisations that offer face-to-face counselling at www.turingnetwork.org.uk. Symptoms of depression include: Feeling sad or down a lot of the time, even when there’s no reason. Feelings of despair that you can’t escape. A lack of feeling or emotion. You don’t feel anything and have lost the ability to feel happy.Feeling exhausted and lacking energy all the time. Continuous and long mood swings, when you change from feeling happy to despairing, sorrowful or angry and irritable. The things that used to give you enjoyment or make you happy leave you feeling numb or uninterested. Withdrawal from or avoiding family and friends. Inability to concentrate or a loss of interest in your work. Putting on or losing a lot of weight. Different sleep patterns. You might not be able to fall asleep or you can’t get up in the morning. Feeling so bad that you think it would be a relief to die or hurt yourself. For more info on depression and how to deal with it, visit www.nhs.uk/livewell/depression.