Content Warning: This story explores loss by suicide. For support, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.
Chris Stedman, writer, professor, and host of the podcast “Unread,” is intimately familiar with the culture of shame and silence surrounding the subject of suicide. After losing his friend Alex to suicide in 2019, Chris began to wrestle deeply with all sorts of questions: how to support people he loves; what factors contributed to his friend’s death; and why so many LGBTQ people struggle with mental health. His podcast “Unread” is a poignant four-episode exploration of all of this.
Chris is intentionally frank about how his friend passed away, saying his honesty is in effort to be responsible about how he discusses suicide and mental health, especially in the context of LGBTQ identity. “I think the very understandable fear of talking about suicide in the wrong way is why a lot of people just end up not talking about it at all. This contributes to people not seeking out help when they need it, and to those who have been impacted by loss, not feeling they have resources or anywhere to process it.” Nuanced perspectives and discourse around suicide are lacking in the mainstream, but are possibly antidotal to any stigma. Chris’s “Unread” is one of those antidotal perspectives.
45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Unique mental health risks and mounting anti-LGBTQ policy are daunting, and the need for LGBTQ-specific mental health support is great. Chris understands that need, and also imagines past it. “Crisis response is absolutely critical, and I’m really grateful it’s there. I also dream of a world where we don’t need it, where we are able to live under conditions that allow everyone to thrive. As we care for people who are in crisis, we should also address the circumstances that cause the crisis in the first place.” The Trevor Project, through advocacy, education, and more, seeks to address all of the circumstances surrounding the young people who reach out to us, and we believe that materially, suicide prevention looks like economic and racial justice, and political protections for marginalized communities.
Chris, in reflection, proffered this: “Culturally, we seem to understand a mental health crisis as someone experiencing a kind of ‘irrational moment’. But there isn’t actually anything irrational about not wanting to be alive in a world that seems to not care about you. Reframing the way we think about mental health crises, particularly the experiences of marginalized communities like LGBTQ people, can help us open up more space to talk about their root causes as well as the responses they require.”
In searching for answers about Alex’s experience, Chris also found Britney Spears, someone Alex had a great love for. Chris accurately describes Britney as easily demonized and painted as irrational, something that likely endears Britney to many in the LGBTQ community. “A lot of LGBTQ people understand what it’s like to have some of the things you love the most about yourself be the things the world punishes you for.” And as for his friend Alex, the parallels were clear: “The same things about Alex that made him such an incredible person are also the things that made his life more difficult.”
Ultimately, with “Unread,” Chris wanted to honor and do justice to what an incredibly special person Alex was, “because I think this is the kind of life that often doesn’t really get celebrated or honored.” Chris describes Alex as hilarious, the most amazing person you would ever meet, someone unique and special, and the person who taught him how to embrace the things about yourself that the world rejects. This is an ultimately life-preserving lesson that we hope every young LGBTQ person is able to learn in their unique, vibrant, valuable lives.
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.