Many children are at-risk of suffering from feelings that make them want to take their own life, but statistics show some kids are more vulnerable than others. Doctors will tell you no one is immune from feeling depressed or helpless at some point in their life, but statistics show LGBTQ adolescents are at a frighteningly high risk. It's important to note: there are people nurturing students and helping them grow into confident adults!
That includes Kennedy Loftin, who is the Chief Development Officer for Hatch Youth Services at Montrose Center. This safe-haven was founded 33 years ago to help enrich and save lives.
"It was a place for individuals to find other youth that were the same. This was so important, because we've always had higher rates of suicide in the LGBTQ youth population, compared to their heterosexual peers," explains Loftin.
The Hatch program started-out helping 50 teenagers and now enriches the lives of 750 local kids every year, through fun things, like their own prom, where they can celebrate with anyone they love.
"It's really awesome, you can see the independence and self-assuredness," describes Marcus Hooks, who also works at Montrose Center.
This program focuses on children as young as seven years old to youth who are 20. In the beginning, it's often hard for them to visit here and open up.
"They come in and they really feel beaten down by bullying in school, or problems with family, maybe difficulties in the community, sometimes they come here with their heads down," says Loftin. However, the Hatch program is working to lift those heads UP. "Forty percent of all teen suicides are LBGTQ," exclaims Loftin. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports the number of suicide attempts jumps even higher to a whopping 50 percent for trans-gender males.
Researchers say every single episode of verbal or physical abuse and harassment increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 percent, but not for any child or teen who has ever been involved with the Hatch program. "That's one of the reasons why we are so happy to say that, in the last 33 years, not a single Hatch youth has committed suicide," exclaims Loftin.
He has lost friends to suicide and Marcus Hooks understands why. He says he realized he preferred men in the ninth grade. He says realizing it made him feel isolated and lonely, making him struggle with suicidal thoughts. "I remember those times where I left social engagements thinking that none of these people get me, none of them understands who I am, and I didn't know if they ever would. Often times, I either cried myself to sleep or stayed up through the night just thinking about all the stuff that was going wrong in my head," states Marcus.
Marcus doesn't want others to feel that way, which is why he works at Montrose Center.
"Now there's a whole community worth of people who are just cheering you on for just being alive, for existing in your skin and knowing that there's nothing wrong with that - it's kind of magical," smiles Marcus.
Why is the suicide rate higher for LGBTQ adolescents? Experts say for many that comes from rejection at home. The number of parents, who kick their kids out of the house, when they find out their child is in the LGBTQ community is eye-opening. Forty percent will become homeless.
"Who you are shouldn't be a challenge - it shouldn't be something you have to battle," states Marcus. Yet it continues to be a challenge, besides just with family, but at school and on social media, as well. Camaraderie at a place like Montrose Center lends a sense of community and can make all the difference to lower suicide rates.
It's important to know that help is available. While the Hatch program we're focusing on is in the Montrose area, there are many Hatch programs located in high schools around our area, so you can check to see if your, or your child's, school has a support group. For more ideas about how to get help and stop the epidemic of suicide, head to www.fox26houston.com/darksecrets
More about the Hatch program: Http://www.montrosecenter.org/hatch-youth/
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text 741-741.