Faith-based Approaches to Preventing LGBTQ Youth Suicide

Faith communities and faith leaders have a unique opportunity to help prevent LGBTQ youth suicide in their churches and houses of worship as well as in their broader neighborhoods and communities. 

Clergy, faith leaders and members can play a unique and vital role in helping the LGBTQ youth in their churches and faith communities to not only survive but thrive. The religious and community authority of faith leaders is one of the most important determinants of acceptance of LGBTQ people in homes, families, schools and communities and is the key to LGBTQ youth suicide prevention within a faith community or church.   

This faith-based suicide prevention guide, an excerpt from Faith Forward: Faith-based Approaches to Preventing and Addressing LGBTQ Youth Suicide and Homelessness, provides tips as well as in-depth information for faith leaders of both traditional and LGBTQ affirming faith traditions. Click to view or download pdf.

Ten quick tips for your church or faith-based organization

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From the Forward:

Throughout history, human beings have found ways to reach beyond themselves through spiritual expression. There is a longing within people to connect with the Divine, what some call the “Godshaped hole.” This longing often results in a person being part of a faith tradition or religion, perhaps as an active member of a church, synagogue, faith or religious community. Or for others, their spirituality is expressed in other ways, by connection with nature, yoga or meditation.

Like expressions of personality, expressions of spirituality are varied. Lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and questioning people (LGBTQ) are often assumed to not be religious or have a spiritual practice, and in fact, are too often told that because they are LGBTQ faith isn’t an option for them. Some LGBTQ people are excluded from religious rites and services, and in some instances, told outright that “God hates you.”

Despite pressures, many LGBTQ people continue to have faith and spiritual practices, to attend religious services, even pursue callings to ministry and missionary work. For these LGBTQ people, faith is important to them, yet that very faith can contribute to feelings of distress, even thoughts of suicide.

Religious expression has been shown to have many health benefits, even to the point of helping to prevent suicide, yet those protective benefits of faith don’t always extend to LGBTQ people. For LGBTQ youth who are either drawn to attend religious services and to be part of a faith community, or for those youth who are part of a family that is religious, the religious environment can help to affirm and protect them, or it can cause distress and negative health outcomes, even increased suicidality.

Sobering data:

• Every 15 minutes someone in the U.S. takes his or her own life. And for every one suicide, there are 25 attempts.
• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
• LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.

Faith can help

Religion has been shown to be a protective factor: “Religious affiliation does not necessarily protect against suicidal ideation, but does protect against suicide attempts...and possibly protects against suicide.”

But not always

Suicidal lesbian, gay and bisexual people who seek help from religious based counselors or providers are more likely to attempt suicide. “Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.”

Studies also show that very religious LGBT people are at a greater risk for suicide, and in fact attempt suicide more often than peers over their lifespan. “Religion-based services for mental health and suicide prevention may not benefit gay/lesbian, bisexual, or questioning individuals. Religion-based service providers should actively assure their services are open and supportive of gay/lesbian, bisexual, or questioning individuals.”

With those facts in mind, how can clergy, faith leaders, members of churches and religious organizations help to prevent LGBTQ youth suicide in their congregations and communities?

This guide has strategies that can help, with quick tips that are linked to in-depth information and background materials:

Chapter 1: The Need
Chapter 2: Faith-based Approaches for Suicide Prevention (General)
Section 1: In-depth Resources
Chapter 3: Traditional Faiths and Prevention of LGBTQ Youth Suicide
Section 1: In-depth Resources
Chapter 4: Affirming Faiths and Prevention of LGBTQ Youth Suicide
Section 1: In-depth Resources
Chapter 5: LGBTQ Suicide Prevention Resources
Section 1: Additional LGBTQ Resources
Section 2: Affirming Faith Organizations
Chapter 6: LGBTQ Trainings and Information
Section 1: LGBTQ Terms
Section 2: Intersex
Section 3: Transgender
Section 4: Gender Pronouns
Section 5: Gender Dysphoria
Section 6: Gender Expression
Section 7: Asexuality, Scopes of Attraction
Section 8: For Educators
Section 9: GSAs
Chapter 7: Signs, Risks and What to Do

Click to view or download pdf.