HEALTHY MIND MATTERS
Parents of gay teen who died by suicide dedicated to helping other LGBTQ teens
SALT LAKE CITY — The LGBTQ community in Utah faces a significantly higher risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Teens are at an even greater risk.
The state’s Suicide Prevention Plan is aimed at turning around the trend, and a family in North Salt Lake has made it their mission to help.
A hallway of photos memorializes a son gone far too soon.
“One of his favorite songs was, ‘You are my sunshine.’ That’s one that we chose to sing at his funeral,” Alyson Deussen said.
Alyson and her husband, George Deussen, lost their son Stockton to suicide five and half years ago when he was 17 years old.
“He was struggling with finding his place,” Alyson said.
Stockton was gay.
“It kind of put him on the outside,” she said.
That isolation took a heavy toll on his mental health, a struggle that is, sadly, far too common.
LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to suffer from depression than their peers, according to a study published in Mental Health America.
They are more than twice as likely to feel suicidal and more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
“Kids are coming out much earlier. Kids come out when they’re teenagers — on average, 15 or 16,” Joann Cook, a licensed clinical social worker with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said.
Cook said teens don’t have the maturity or life skills to handle the rejection and abandonment that often follows.
“Kids need a safe place, period,” she said.
She said families and communities should make acceptance the priority.
“I need to love my kid how they are, in their ups and downs and all-arounds. My job isn’t to tell them who they are. My job is to ask them who they are and be curious,” Cook said.
Experts said it’s important to ask, listen and validate teens’ emotions. Show acceptance through words.
“We all need a place of belonging, and if you don’t have it, you go looking in the lowest of places,” George said.
Experts said parents are getting better at responding with love and there are also more resources available. That includes new health care initiatives, like the Utah LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapists Guild, The University of Utah TransHealth Program, and the state’s LGBTQ suicide prevention plan.
But more work needs to be done.
“We have to step back and not allow a lot of cultural conversations that have been going on for years,” George said. “And go back to the core of what is human, what connects us, and that is love.”
Since Stockton’s death, the Deussens have devoted their lives to making things better through their nonprofit Peculiar.
They mourn the son who dreamed of opening a diner.
“He loved to bake desserts,” Alyson said. “I was going to be his assistant.”
They urged parents and the community to be there for these teens.
“My depth of love, it came because of Stockton,” she said.
Suicide prevention resources
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
You can also text TALK to 741741 and parents, students, and educators can download the SafeUT app chat or call 833-3SAFEUT to connect with a licensed crisis counselor.
- Parents, students, and educators can download the SafeUT app chat or call 833-3SAFEUT to connect with a licensed crisis counselor.
- First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals, can chat with a crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app and members of the National Guard can access help through the SafeUTNG app.
- For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call the Utah Warm Line at 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- At Huntsman Mental Health Institute, women can access maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
- LiveOnUtah.org, a campaign by the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition offers suicide prevention training and has resources for faith-based groups, youth, LGBTQ+, and Employers.
Other community-based organizations that provide suicide prevention services, support groups, mental health education, counseling services and support:
- NAMI Utah: education, support and advocacy for individuals and families impacted by mental illness
- Latino Behavioral Health Services: Latinx mental health education and support
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Utah Chapter
- Encircle Utah: LGBTQ+ family and youth resource center
- Utah Pride Center: empowers Utah’s diverse LGBTQ+ community
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health
- Center for Workplace Mental Health: suicide prevention and response for employers
Additional crisis hotlines
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
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