On the morning of December 28th, transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn, but associated as a female) took her own life by stepping in front of a tractor trailer on the highway in Warren County, Ohio. She left behind a suicide note on tumblr, citing her parents’ Christianity as what pushed her to the edge. As tragic as this situation is, the internet has rallied around Leelah’s story as a cry to end social discrimination against transgender people, as the suicide note urged society to look at the number of transgender people that commit suicide each year and “fix it.” Even though it is wrong to discriminate against any one for any reason, I don’t think we’re looking at the right aspect of society that needs to be fixed. The real injustice here is the lack of understanding from all parties involved on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, depression, and suicide.
In her suicide note, Leelah Alcorn stated that she felt like she was a female at 4 years old and struggled with identity. When she told her mother how she was feeling, she was only met with negativity and nonacceptance. The insurmountable sorrow that goes along with feeling completely outcast from even your own family must be absolutely crushing.
“On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.”
Leelah was experiencing symptoms to a disease that was mistreated by both her and her parents. A lot of people don’t even consider depression to be a disease, thinking that people are just sad and need to cheer up, but Major Depressive Disorder is caused by biological, physiological, and social factors. Leelah did mention in her note that her mother did seek treatment for her.
“My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”
Of course, I understand that God can help and He can heal and restore, and I also understand that depression can alter your perception of reality and make you only intake the negativity which further feeds the depression, but if you see someone stricken with cancer, you wouldn’t dare tell them that they just need Jesus. Depression is like a psychological cancer. Depression needs to be treated as a disease because it is a disease.
Over 80% of the people that have symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any specific treatment for their depression. Could you imagine what the world would be like if literally any other disease was neglected as much as depression?
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people 15-24 years old. In Matthew chapter eight, Jesus called His disciples to heal the sick, and I believe that recognizing an affliction that may put someone’s life at risk and finding real, professional help for them is part of that. Jesus healed people where they were; He didn’t need them to believe in Him first.
Leelah Alcorn didn’t have to take her own life. It’s truly a heartbreaking tragedy. But, the real tragedy has nothing to do with gender identity, and everything to do with getting educated on depression and suicide. It’s our job as Christians to help those that need help; not judge or condemn them.
As someone that struggles with depression, this story hit very close to home for me. No one should ever feel like there is no hope for them. Jesus is the embodiment of hope, and as His followers we should reflect that same love and acceptance. If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions, please call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone immediately. To learn more about suicide prevention and depression, visit www.save.org