The LGBTQ community is stronger today than at any time in its history. However, 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges to that community. Many members’ mental health is at risk in the present pandemic environment. Throw in the discrimination and prejudices that the LGBTQ community too often encounters and it is no surprise that the levels of self-harm and suicide attempts are on the rise. In this article, we present four self-harm prevention tips that we can all take on board in order to help and support our loved ones who are LGBTQ.
- Personal Safety Plan
- Bring Self Harm Out in the Open
- Stress Reduction Techniques
LGBTQ individuals are living in a world that, despite the progress made, is still heavily prejudiced against them. The discrimination that they face on a daily basis makes it very challenging for them to express their true selves. This often results in a lack of self-acceptance and the leading of a double life. As a loved one, you can go a long way toward helping your son, daughter, brother, or sister accept themself. It begins with your assurance to them of your full, unconditional love and support. Tell them that you respect the person they are on the inside (and mean it!).
Help your loved one to be their true self in public. Go out with them to provide them with support. We know that LGBTQ individuals face discrimination in seeking healthcare and other services. Be prepared to go with them as an advocate. Encourage your loved one to express themselves, even in the face of discrimination from people in positions of authority. If you detect discrimination, call it out!
Your loved one may have avoided health care services and community benefits that he or she has access to. Sit down with them and research what services they are eligible for and then make appointments with them to access those services. As mentioned, suggest that you go with them as their advocate.
Personal Safety Plan
Encourage your loved one to develop a personal safety plan. This is a resource that they can go to when they have feelings of self-harm or suicide. Here are some ideas to include in the plan:
- What are some of your personal triggers? These may include feeling worthless, uncontrolled racing thoughts, the desire to cut, or overwhelming feelings of stress.
- What steps can you take to have a safe environment? Obvious things are removing sharp objects and quantities of pills.
- What personal coping strategies can you use? Suggest things like calling a support person, journaling, going for a run, watching YouTube, etc.
- Where are some safe places you can physically go to for help? Suggest your own place, the local LGBTQ community center, and other local support groups.
- Who are some people or organizations you can call for help? Here are three that should be included:
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE
LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
You can access an online Personal Safety Plan at the LGBT National Health center website.
Bring Self Harm Out in the Open
Too often, self-harm is never discussed. Everyone knows that it is going on, but no one has the courage to address it. Communication can be a powerful tool in the fight against self harm. You need to be the person who steps up and discusses it with your at risk loved one. You may get denial or anger or refusal to engage. Don’t give up. Let your loved one know that you are not judging them but that you love them so much that you want to provide them with alternatives to self-harm. Here are a half dozen suggestions:
- Take a hot shower.
- Cover your arms in band-aids.
- Draw slash marks on a sheet of paper.
- Rip up newspaper.
- Write on your arms.
- Work out on a punching bag.
Stress Reduction Techniques
As a result of the discrimination and prejudices that they face on a daily basis, LGBTQ individuals encounter far more stressful situations than the general population. Help your loved one to cope with their stress in a productive way. Here are three stress reduction techniques:
- Exercise—Working out is probably the most effective stress management strategy that exists, so you can use exercise to prevent self harm related to stress or anxiety. When you get your muscles moving, your body releases certain hormones that naturally put you in a good mood. The main two are epinephrine and dopamine. At the same time, exercise blunts the body’s production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Then there’s the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you complete a workout. Doing your exercise first thing in the morning will set you up for a positive day. If you can, suggest that you and your loved one become workout buddies or that they team up with a trusted friend. And when your body needs to recover from your workout, try a gravity blanket to help you get good rest.
- Eat Well—The foods we eat do more than determine the size of our waistlines. They also affect the way we feel about ourselves. If you binge junk food and soda daily, you will inevitably end up feeling lethargic and down. So, encourage your loved one to clean up their diet, cut out sugary carb foods, and concentrate on lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs from vegetables. You can also try thoughtfully adding supplements that can fortify the mind against self harm.
- Journaling for Mental Health—When you write your emotions down, you immediately lessen their impact. The physical act of writing is, in itself, a stress reliever (which is why you should write it rather than typing it). Getting thoughts on paper allows you to rationally assess them. Once you’ve written down what is troubling you, flip the script, and the page, and start writing down all the things you are grateful for.
During these unprecedented times, it is incumbent on all of us to support one another. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters need our full, unconditional love, acceptance, and support right now in order to help them stay safe. Follow through on these tips to provide the support that your LGBTQ loved ones deserve and need.