Why are so many gay men and bisexuals dying by suicide

According to the Still Here project, part of the Men’s Health Research Program of the University of British Columbia, homophobia is the main cause.

As a postdoctoral fellow in nursing at the University of British Columbia, I work on the Still Here Project to engage gay and gay-bisexual men who struggle with suicidal thoughts (or have lost a gay or bisexual male to suicide) to share their stories using photographs.

A photograph entitled No Answers – but occasionally evidence of beauty in nonconformity. (Still Here project), Author provided

Still Here has so far involved 29 gay and bisexual males who have contributed more than 300 photos. A member of the research team interviewed each participant to discuss his pictures and share his story. These photos and stories help us understand the many factors that can lead gay men and bisexuals to consider suicide.

Homophobia is a common theme.

We find that each story is different, and the reasons why gay and bisexual participants in our research consider suicide are diverse. All the photos and stories are united by homophobia.

The majority of men who participated in our study reported experiencing violence, bullying, and rejection from their families because of their sexuality. Some learned to internalize the negative views of homosexuals and bisexuals in society.

The image Washing away the fear. Author provided

Still, Here, participants had also spoken about being confronted by homophobia or stigmatizing attitudes from their doctors and counselors when they spoke up to them.

Men who have experienced homophobia often describe feeling lonely, isolated, and invisible. These feelings can lead to depression, helplessness, and even thoughts of suicide.

These men did not only contemplate suicide because of homophobia. Mental illness, financial difficulties, or loss of a job were often associated with suicide. Thoughts of suicide have influenced some people due to an abusive relationship or the ending of a relationship.

Breaking the Silence

We must break the silence surrounding suicide. It is a common myth that discussing suicide will encourage it. It is not a good idea to talk about suicide because it can perpetuate shame and stigma. Still Here, participants have described feeling very alone when they had suicidal thoughts because people don’t openly discuss it. The silence made it difficult for them to seek help.

The photo is called I am locked up in the closet, and I hope to get out. But I’m scared. The author provided (Still Here Project)

The Still Here participants and the research team worked together to create several exhibits featuring their photos in order to spark a discussion on suicide. The shows had a profound impact on the people who saw them. They provided a space for people to tell their stories and talk about prevention.

To extend the reach of these photographs, the Still Here project launched an online gallery at www.stillhereproject.ca that has now been visited by thousands of individuals worldwide.

Prevention Strategies

First, we must improve mental health services for gay men and bisexuals. It is hard to access mental health services. There are many barriers, including cost and long waiting lists. Many health professionals also have a difficult time discussing suicide. Men are also often prescribed pills for depression when they prefer to talk to someone.

Mental health professionals and doctors need to be better trained to deal with the complex needs and stigmatizing attitudes of gay men and bisexuals, as well as to reduce homophobic and sexist attitudes.

We as a society need to do more to fight stigma. In Canada, there have been legal advances for sexual minorities. However, homophobia still impacts the lives of gay and bisexual males. In a study published in 2015, it was found that half of gay men and bisexuals have experienced harassment or bullying because of their sexuality. One in ten gays has been bullied.

Gay and bisexual men who commit suicide will continue to be at high risk if we don’t eliminate homophobia or change the perception of mental illness.

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