How calling an LGBTQ teen crisis lifeline inspired this man to become a counselor himself: 'I get it and I am right there with them'

Jacquie Cosgrove
·5 mins read

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is coming to a close, but continuing conversations around suicide may be more crucial than ever. A recent study found that more Americans reported a decline in their mental health amid the pandemic, and rates of depression have tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For LGBTQ young people, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight or cisgender peers, resources like crisis lifelines are sometimes the only places to receive messages of acceptance when they’re needed most. The Trevor Project volunteer crisis counselor Connor Johnston knows this firsthand.

The Trevor Project is the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people in the world. Johnston, an actor who has been volunteering at the organization for four years, opened up to Yahoo Life about when he called into the Trevor Lifeline himself as a teen.

“When I was in high school, I was in the process of kind of understanding who I was,” Johnston says. “And through that, I felt that I was really alone.” One night after reaching an emotional breaking point, Johnston says he remembered learning about The Trevor Project in a school assembly. He looked up the number and decided to give the crisis lifeline a call.

“I was saying things I’ve never told anyone for the first time, and it was met with such compassion and understanding and empathy,” he says. “This person told me that everything I felt was OK, who I am is OK, and I'm deserving of love. And it was the first time I'd ever heard messages like that.”

Johnston’s call with a Trevor Project counselor that night marked the beginning to a newfound perspective. “I just remember feeling like I can finally be proud of who I am, and live my life knowing that there’s a community that supports me,” he says.

After graduating from college, Johnston reconnected with the organization and decided to go through the training to become a volunteer counselor, so he could help teens who call in for support.

“I saw volunteering for Trevor as like the final step in my coming out journey,” Johnston explains. “To the point where I can now give back, give that support to other young people who really need it in crisis.”

Trained counselors can be reached 24/7 to offer support to a young person in crisis, whether they are feeling suicidal, or are just in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk.“We're there to show young people that no crisis is too big or too small, that you are beautiful the way you are, you deserve love and support, and that you are never alone,” Johnston says.

While resources like The Trevor Lifeline are extremely helpful, Johnston says that that support first starts at home, within a family and the local community. “We've heard the stat that LGBTQ youth who report a strong social support system are far less likely to attempt suicide,” Johnston says. “And I know for a fact that that’s absolutely true.”

The Trevor Project’s website offers the acronym C.A.R.E. as a tool for adults responding to warning signs that someone in their life may be considering taking their own life:

Connect

The first step is connecting with the person you’re worried about. Start a conversation where it’s clear that you’re there for them and ready to listen.

Ask

The next thing to do is directly ask them if they’re having thoughts of suicide. “A lot of people think that you don't want to ask someone if they're thinking [about] suicide as an option because it might cause that person to feel more strongly about those ideas,” Johnston says. “That's not the case.”

Studies show that asking someone if they are suicidal does not increase the risk of suicide. “It might be a really hard conversation to have, but at the end of it you’ll feel like you're there for them, and that young person knows that you’re not afraid to handle these kinds of conversations.”

Respond

The next step is to respond with empathy and compassion. It’s not about having a perfect answer and it’s OK to seek outside support, but don’t dismiss their feelings. Genuinely thank them for opening up to you.

Empower

Finally, empower them with information and support that may help improve their situation. “The Trevor [Project] resource support center on our website has a lot of great tools for people who are wanting to help someone else who's in crisis,” Johnston says. “We’ve also really been trying to empower young people to find ways that they can engage in self-care...anything that just gets your mind off things and slows the day down is self-care.”

Connor Johnston speaking at the 2019 TrevorLIVE event
Connor Johnston speaking at the 2019 TrevorLIVE event (Photo: Getty Images)

“There are times when I talk to someone whose story is so similar to mine, and I feel so lucky to be able to finally tell someone everything that I wanted to tell myself at the time,” Johnston says.

Being on the other side of so many other people’s stories, Johnston says it has allowed him to rewrite the narrative of his younger days. “A lot of the time in high school, I would think that I was wasting my time, that I was not doing things right,” he shares. “And now looking back, I realize that I was a survivor, I was getting through it, I was doing everything I could.”

“Every part of me deserves love and deserves validation and acceptance,” Johnston says. “It’s great to be able to tell [callers] that I get it and I am right there with them.”

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want daily lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter