Trans Youth and Suicide
Biblia Luna #24
Welcome to Issue #24 of Biblia Luna, the weekly newsletter about the intersection of mental illness and faith.
“How Can I Help?”
Mental illness affects people of every walk of life, every gender, every race, every nation. But there are some groups of people who deal with it more than others. One such group in the United States is youth who are transgender, who self-identify their gender differently than what was assigned to them at birth. The Trevor Project has published their findings of surveys of LGTBQ youth across all fifty states, and the data is sobering. Looking at the data for Pennsylvania, my own state:
44% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year, including 54% of transgender and nonbinary youth.
14% of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year, including 19% of transgender and nonbinary youth.
80% of transgender and nonbinary youth experienced symptoms of anxiety, and 64% reported symptoms of depression.
These numbers are staggering.
One out of every five trans youth in Pennsylvania attempted suicide last year.
So here’s my answer for this week to the question, “How can I help?”
Consider how you can help provide an affirming space for LGBTQ youth in your community.
This newsletter is devoted to the intersection of faith and mental illness, and I know that various faith communities have diverse views and thoughts on LGBTQ issues. But I hope that we can all agree that suicide among LGBTQ youth is a bad thing! I hope that we can all agree that, whatever our own view on sexuality, it is not God’s will that young people suffer so much that suicide is an option.
There is some hope, and there are things we can do. The report states: “Research consistently finds that LGBTQ youth who live in accepting communities and feel high social support from family and friends report significantly lower rates of attempting suicide.” And, it also shares some responses to the question, “What makes a space affirming for LGBTQ young people in Pennsylvania?”
being understanding, supportive, loved and validated
asking for pronouns
openly out employees
availability and visibility of resources
“safe place” stickers on doors
general good vibes
feeling comfortable expressing myself
If you live in the US, I encourage you to check out the Trevor Project’s research, and download the report for your state.
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Crazy Lectionary: The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2023 will be the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel appointed for Epiphany IV is Matthew 5:1-12, a section of the Sermon on the Mount usually called the Beatitudes.
The first Beatitude reads like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3a, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)
It’s an interesting turn of phrase. The poor in spirit. It’s rather different from the first Beatitude in Luke’s telling of it (“Blessed are you who are poor,” Luke 6:20 NRSVUE). Luke’s Jesus puts the focus on the indigent, the impoverished, those in material need. Matthew has this softer-sounding version, “poor in spirit.” I have sometimes heard it described as meaning those who are unsure of their faith, those who are not the spiritual superheroes (like our expectations of saints and pastors and tithers and our grandparents). It’s a way that people in the pews can connect with it. And perhaps that’s indeed what Matthew meant when writing this. But I think it’s also fair to see a connection with mental illness.
The Greek word ptōchoi, which is translated “poor,” is associated with begging. Perhaps a good translation of Matthew 5:3 would be “Blessed are those who beg in their spirit” or “Blessed are the spirit-beggars.” Those whose spirits are begging, begging for something they don’t have. That’s kind of what it’s like when I’m in a depression. It’s like there’s a hole in my spirit. An emptiness, a rawness, something missing or broken. I imagine that people with other mental health problems experience something like this as well. A broken, misshapen, aching spirit that calls out, begs for help. And so Jesus is proclaiming good news here for those who suffer these aches: you are blessed! It may sound crazy to someone who lives with this, but that’s the point of the Beatitudes, turning the world upside-down, proclaiming that what is painful will be redeemed, proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven belongs to people such as you! This can be great news for people who suffer, often in silence, with mental illness. We can hear that this good news is indeed for us, that God does intend to turn our pain upside-down, that we are not beyond hope.
I had a great time speaking about my book to the St. Andrew’s Women’s group at St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Easton last week. What a welcoming group of people, who asked some very good questions and shared some very poignant stories!
I will be leading a workshop about faith and mental illness on Saturday, January 28 for Learning Ministries Day, an annual Christian Education event held by the Northeastern PA Synod.
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
(2 Timothy 1:7 NRSVUE)