Laura Ungar l USA TODAY
M.C. Lampe couldn’t take any more bullying. Not one more homophobic taunt. Not one more classmate refusing to sit at a nearby
desk or change clothes within view at gym. So the devastated ninthgrader brought a knife to school and vowed, “If someone else
says something, I’m done.”
Someone did say something — and Lampe went to the high school bathroom and slit both wrists.
Suicide attempts are alarmingly common among transgender individuals such as Lampe; 41% try to kill themselves at some point in
their lives, compared with 4.6% of the general public. The numbers come from a study by the American Foundation for Suicide
Prevention and the Williams Institute, which analyzed results from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Researchers
are preparing to launch another version of the online survey on Wednesday.
More than a dozen other surveys of transgender people worldwide since 2001 have found similarly high rates, and the problem has
grown more visible since Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.
“The way we treat trans people, especially trans women, is terrible,” says Lampe, 24, now a graduate student at the University of
Louisville who identifies as a genderqueer and transgender. “It’s not surprising they don’t feel they belong in the world.”
That’s borne out by the research, which shows those who are harassed, bullied, victimized, discriminated against or rejected by
family and friends are more likely to attempt suicide. Some doctors and mental health experts say prevention begins with
acceptance and kindness, especially by parents.
“The answer is love your kid as is,” says pediatrician Michelle Forcier of Rhode Island, an expert on transgender children on the
faculty of Brown University’s medical school. “Your love and acceptance is the best medicine your kids can ever get.”
For Lampe, who grew up in Louisville, the insults were relentless, the rejection and ostracism unbearable — culminating in the
suicide attempt two weeks before the end of freshman year of high school. Lampe wound up spending two weeks at a psychiatric
hospital, and then going to outpatient therapy that fostered a new commitment to staying alive.
Lampe was lucky to find good care. Experts say discrimination is a big problem in the health care world, and many medical
professionals haven’t been trained in transgender health issues.
“Often the same factors that increase suicide risk among straight peers dramatically affect trans individuals: limited social support,
poverty, substance use, school avoidance, rejection by parents,” says Michael Leslie, director of LGBTQ mental health at McLean
Hospital in Massachusetts.
Grace Godin, a transgender woman from Brookline, Mass., says her life has been a struggle for as long as she can remember.
Assigned male at birth, Godin, 20, always saw herself as a girl, drawing selfportraits in first grade with long hair and a dress. Over
time she became the target of bullying. She struggled with depression and anxiety and selfharm by cutting. One night when she
was 13, she decided to cut deeper than usual, hoping she would bleed to death.
Like Lampe, she recovered, went to therapy and is now in college. She gets support through the group PFLAG, which unites
LGBTQ people with family members, friends and allies. She says her mom is very supportive, and she has a good relationship with
her dad, too. But she laments “he still doesn’t call me his daughter.”
Greta Gustava Martela, of Chicago, has heard many similar stories. After struggling through life and planning her own suicide twice,
the transgender woman and her wife last fall founded the Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline for transgender individuals. Staff so far
have handled more than 20,000 calls.
Mental health experts say turning the tide will take more research. In the meantime, Forcier suggests pediatricians talk about
gender issues with kids and parents. Some experts are encouraged people under 40 seem more accepting of transgender people
but warn against complacency. “It’s getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go,” says Ann Haas, a senior consultant to the
suicide prevention foundation and an author of its report.
“Often the same factors that increase suicide risk among straight peers dramatically affect trans individuals: limited social
support, poverty, substance use, school avoidance, rejection by parents.”
8/17/2015 The Clarion-Ledger
Michael Leslie, director of LGBTQ mental health at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.