Mental Health Matters: Minding your LGBTQ+s and Why Words Matter

Photo of Jay Ytell, Outreach Coordinator for the LGBTQ+ program through Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County

Annie Lindgren
North Forty News

We have all experienced incidences where the words of others have impacted how we feel about ourselves- a nickname we did not like, getting made fun of for something that makes us different, or receiving unsolicited criticism. These experiences can lead to lasting impacts on self-esteem and self-worth. They are not always malicious in intent. 

The Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County addresses the needs of populations most at risk for suicide by having dedicated Peer Outreach Coordinators who work directly with those populations. One such program, headed up by Jay Ytell, is committed to serving the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

The services through the LGBTQ+ program help educate the community on how best to support this population. “The most important thing to know about the statistics is that the primary risk factors for suicide [among LGBTQ+ populations] are stigma and mistreatment. It is not that being LGBTQ+ makes people more prone to suicide, but rather that society treats LGBTQ+ people in ways that make them more likely to die by suicide,” Jay explains.

Jay focuses her work on policy changes and training to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ populations. She visits schools, businesses, organizations, and public agencies, using a macro approach instead of doing individual work. She trains non-LGBTQ+ populations on how to treat LGBTQ+ people with respect by helping them understand what terms mean and how to speak in an informed way.

Jay is interested in language and how we use it. “Language is always evolving and changing, and it is to better our understanding [of the world], and not to make things more complicated. Language makes things more understandable.” Those who do not have LGBTQ+ people in their life may not feel the need to learn more inclusive language and might be more prone to poking fun at things they do not understand. With many in this population still ‘in the closet,’ you never know who you could harm, or how your words could impact their feelings of being ready to come out of the closet.

When Jay works with professionals, she trains them on how to ask questions respectfully and appropriately. She gave examples of questions such as “What do you want to be called?” “How do you want to be treated?” and “What can I do to make you feel most comfortable?” There may be other things you want to know that is not appropriate to ask, like sexual preferences.

Choosing respectful language does not always come naturally to people, because the rules of ‘treating everyone the way you want to be treated,’ do not always apply to LGBTQ+ populations. People who do not understand this population’s preferences often convey the message that the person is wrong, or there is something wrong with them for their gender or sexuality. It questions the validity of who they are.

While the LGBTQ+ program is still new and expanding, Jay is starting by targeting schools and educational settings. Individuals and organizations can request training or reach out with questions. Below is information about the two trainings currently offered through the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County:

The ABCs of LGBTQ+ is a training that focuses on the basics of the LGBTQ+ community. The training includes information about different identities, the importance of language and labels, and how to be a better ally. If you’re curious about LGBTQ+ topics, have some questions that you’ve always wanted to ask, or wish to learn what all the letters mean, this training is for you.

Preventing Suicide in LGBTQ+ Populations is a training that provides concrete steps and actions that attendees can take to avoid LGBTQ+ suicide. This training identifies risk factors and protective factors that affect LGBTQ+ populations and uses them to develop an informed, holistic approach to suicide prevention.

Both trainings are free of charge and offered beginning October 1st, 2020. If you or your organization is interested in receiving training, please contact Jay Ytell at jay@suicideprevent.org.

Other resources that offer support for LGBTQ+ populations:

  • The Trevor Project, founded in 1998, is a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under the age of 25. The website (thetrevorproject.org) is a great resource for LGBQT+ youth and those needing guidance on how best to work with these populations. It includes a suicide hotline for those in crisis, offering 24/7 support by trained professionals. For crisis support through TrevorLifeline: 1-866-488-7386; Text: Text START to 678-678; TrevorChat: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/
  • One Colorado is Colorado’s source for LGBTQ+ advocacy and resources: https://one-colorado.org
  • PFLAG provides nationwide support and resources: https://pflag.org
  • GLAAD, founded in 1985, rewrites the script for LGBTQ+ acceptance: https://www.glaad.org

“Visibility is the most important thing in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights,” explains Jay. Just 30-40 years ago, not many people knew someone who was openly gay. Gay rights did not hit the public eye until the 1980s. “Just existing and being visible as a member of the LGBTQ+ community helps bring awareness. It is a big burden to carry, but a lot of times it brings connection to people who previously didn’t have any reason for any of this to mean anything in their life,” explains Jay. Having someone we know and care about impacted makes topics pertinent and real. 

In our society, there is a history of treating people differently. We see the effects of that with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the ‘Me Too Movement.’ The LGBTQ+ populations experience similar discrimination ingrained in societal norms. People may not intentionally say offensive things, but due to a lack of understanding, words and symbols can still be hurtful. The reality is that these topics impact all of us, and the more we can educate ourselves, the more we can create real positive change for the future.