In my books, I deal with issues such as homophobia, coming out, sexual trauma, and suicide. Here are some thoughts about what to do if you or someone you know is dealing with struggles related to these issues, followed by some great resources to get yourself or a loved one help. If you need immediate help, see the box on the right (or click here on mobile) to be taken to the resources that may help you.
Following are thoughts about what to do if you are someone you love is struggling with any of these issues:
If you are struggling with coming out or disclosing your sexual or gender orientation, know that you are not alone, and whatever feelings you are having about what you’re going through are normal. Something I’ve learned in my life is that we are all special, but we are not unique. Any struggle you are having, someone has had before you. Any feeling you are experiencing has been felt by someone before you. In that way, you may feel alone, or devastated, or any number of feelings, but you are never alone in feeling that way.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, all of the above is still true, and it is absolutely crucial that you get help. I have been there. So many of us have been there. The problem with suicide is it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Even if the problem doesn’t seem temporary, this solution certainly is. If you are considering ending your life or harming yourself, there may well be something going on that requires treatment, such as depression, which is a chemical condition and often cannot be fixed simply “thinking positive” or “not focusing on it.”
Here are some things to consider if you are struggling:
- Don’t go through this alone! What is often so hard about these struggles is the isolation that comes with them…isolation from family, friends and institutions that have been crucial to us. Below I will offer some suggestions about what to do so that you don’t have to be alone with these struggles.
- Communicating is everything. I have sometimes gone overboard with this; it doesn’t mean you have to tell your problems to EVERYONE. What you must do, though, is find AT LEAST ONE PERSON you can really trust and talk to about what’s going on.
- Be kind to yourself. Sometimes when I have a problem, I pile on to it some unkind thoughts, such as, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “Only weak people have problems like this.” A good thing to remember is to treat ourselves with kindness, like we’d treat a friend. If you find yourself saying or thinking things about yourself that you wouldn’t say about your best friend, do your best to stop thinking that thought. One thing I do in these situations is say, “Cancel” out loud. Words and thoughts are powerful, and by saying this, I cancel the power of these negative thoughts and words.
Here are some thoughts about what to do if a friend or loved one is struggling:
- Let people know that you are a safe person with whom to share! Sometimes this is as simple as telling friends and loved ones that you care about them and are willing to listen if they need to talk, or that you are someone who will help them in a time of need. If you are a teacher, you can post a Safe Space sign in your classroom. Your willingness to be helpful might be the thing that saves a struggling person’s life!
- If you say you will listen, make sure you listen to them! Listening is not as easy as it sounds (pun not intended). It means hearing what they say, and not thinking about what you’re going to say to them when they take a breath. Listening is about them, not about you. You don’t need to seem smart or have just the right thing to say to fix everything. All you need to do is shut your mouth and open your ears.
- Thank them for telling you what’s going on in their life. It’s not easy for some people to open up. Let the person know you appreciate them talking to you about this.
- Acknowledge what they are saying. If someone says they feel alone, you might simply mirror back to them what they’ve said so they know they’ve been heard. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you’re feeling lonely. That’s really hard.” Saying this allows your friend to know you heard and that you understand. Often, we try to make our friends and loved ones feel better, and we do that by negating what they have said. “Oh, you’re not really alone.” Feelings matter, and they deserve to be heard for what they are.
- Ask questions. Sometimes when someone is sharing with us, we want to help, and we want to offer solutions. This is a normal instinct, but it is often not as helpful as we think it will be. Instead, hear what they are saying and ask follow-up questions so you can learn more. “Do you feel that way a lot?” “What does it feel like when your dad says that to you?” These questions let the person know they are being heard, and questions allow them to explore for themselves what they are feeling, rather than telling them what to do.
- Don’t try to fix the person. This is probably the hardest thing about being a listener; we all want to fix our friends, because we want them to feel happy. This is totally normal, but it is not generally what people are seeking when they talk to you about their problems. The only time it is okay to give advice is when you are asked for it! Instead, be with them and support them while they go through their struggles.
- We don’t try to fix people, because we aren’t qualified professionals. But one thing we can do is offer them resources like the ones in the blue box on the right (or below on mobile), which are available online and by phone.
- The only exceptions to this are when a person might harm themselves, someone else, or if someone is hurting them. In those cases, we make sure they get the help they need, immediately. We do this even if it means going against their wish for you to not tell anyone. Tell a qualified professional! A teacher, a counselor, a parent. Your friend might be angry with you, but you may just save their life or the life of someone else. And usually, once that person gets help, the anger turns to gratitude.