We need to talk about suicide among gay and bisexual men
For much of his life, it seemed to Greg* that he was not like most people. He was different. And he quickly learned that being different was not okay. He learned to hide his behaviors and desires.
Greg is gay. And for many years he hid this part of his life. But it wasn’t the only thing he was hiding. Long after Greg accepted his sexuality and came out, he continued to keep other parts of himself hidden – Greg has suffered from depression for most of his life and has had recurrent thoughts of suicide.
When he did share his thoughts about suicide with his family they got angry with him. When he told friends, they stopped calling him. When he tried to talk with his doctor he got an anti-depressant prescription. So he learned quickly that it might be better to keep his thoughts of suicide to himself, leaving him to suffer alone.
But Greg is not alone. Suicide is more common than most people think. It is the ninth leading cause of death among Canadians and according to Statistics Canada, 13 per cent of adults have had serious thoughts of suicide during their life.
For some communities, like the gay and bisexual male community, the suicide rates increase even further. Due to homophobia and sexual stigma, gay and bisexual men have disproportionately high rates of suicide. A study published in 2015 found that half of all gay and bisexual men contemplated suicide, while one in eight reported a suicide attempt
Even though the problem is well documented, suicide in the gay and bisexual community remains a taboo topic. As Greg learned, it tends to be shrouded in silence and stigma. This silence makes those who consider suicide invisible and it makes it difficult for them to ask for help when they need it. We need to end this silence, particularly in communities most affected by suicide.
To spark conversations about suicide in the gay and bisexual community, the Men’s Health Research program at the University of British Columbia launched Still Here. Still Here is a photography and art project featuring gay and bisexual men who have previously struggled with suicide or who have lost another gay or bisexual man to suicide.
Greg is one of them. Like the other participants, he was given a camera to capture his experience and perspective on suicide. The photos have been exhibited in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Edmonton to help de-stigmatize suicide and provide a safe space for people to share their own stories.
These exhibits have had a powerful impact on those who viewed them. They offered a unique opportunity for individuals to learn and discuss the reasons why gay and bisexual men consider suicide.
The photos depict issues such as homophobia, social isolation, financial difficulties and relationship problems. To extend the reach of these exhibits we also launched an online exhibit, which has been viewed by thousands of people worldwide.
The success of our in-person and online exhibits suggest that people want to talk about the issue of suicide in the gay and bisexual community. But now we need solutions. In Canada, there is no targeted suicide prevention initiative for gay and bisexual men. This has to change. We hope that by starting the conversation through Still Here we will help find solutions.
*Name has been changed
If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, there is help. Please call the Crisis Center for support: 1-8000-suicide or visit crisiscentrechat.ca to chat with someone.
About Still Here
Still Here is a photo project featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals affected by suicide. The aim of the project is to break the silence around suicide and start a conversation about the need for targeted suicide prevention programs for LGBTQ communities. Still Here is a project from the Men’s Health Research program at the University of British Columbia
Article written by: Olivier Ferlatte
Olivier Ferlatte is a post-doctoral research fellow at the men’s health research program at UBC and the director of the Still Here project.