Suicide and depression have touched many in the Kitsap community. Between 2011-2015, 14 kids under age 20 took their own lives.
Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In Washington State, an average of one person dies by suicide every eight hours, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“It’s a lot like a prison,” said survivor Quinn Artis. “Like falling in a dark hole, spiraling down, stuck to where you can’t climb out.
“The confusing part about depression is, often times, it just takes all the fight out of your soul and you can’t just ‘stop’ it. It’s an emptiness, like a nothing that consumes you.”
The feelings of depression are overwhelming and consuming, and the struggles with mental health and abuse in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ+) community seems to be an even greater concern.
In fact, the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control for students grades 9-12.
Artis, who identifies as “bi-gender‚” (identifying oneself as both male and female and referring to themselves as “they”) has seriously contemplated suicide several times.
“The feeling is overwhelming,” Artis said. “Almost like the walls were closing in on myself.”
On long walks from home, Artis recalled looking at the passing cars on the highway.
“I remember looking at the cars and thinking, ‘I could step just step out and end all of this right now,’” Artis said. “It’s terrifying to think about killing yourself in such a sudden way. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.”
Artis struggled with both physical and verbal abuse from peers at school who taunted their differences. Artis developed body dysmorphia, causing Artis to feel highly uncomfortable with a changing body.
And though, home life was filled with unconditional love, the abuse from peers became a haunting reality of the struggles of being “different.”
Sadly, Artis’ case is not uncommon, as 34 percent of LGBTQ+ youth were bullied on school property, according to 2015 data of the Center for Disease Control.
“I would try to fit in and be normal,” Artis said. “But how could I? I could never be normal to their standards. And I never really felt like a free person.”
After a transition from public school to West Sound Academy, the road to wholeness became clear for Artis.
Artis found support from peers involved with “Listen to Your Art‚” (LTYA) a student-run arts and music festival, benefiting the Trevor Project, the nation’s largest suicide prevention hotline specifically targeted toward LGBTQ+ youth, providing education, advocacy and a 24-hour hotline.
The festival, founded by students Ben Taylor, Megan Hall and Aidan Moore in 2015, was a way to raise money and awareness of the issue. The event that originated as a 1 a.m. Facebook chat, quickly gained a greater weight when LGBTQ+ suicide hit home in the small international baccalaureate West Sound Academy school.
“We lost a friend of ours to suicide in 2015,” said Espen Swanson, a recent WSA graduate and planner of the event. “The issue of suicide prevention is personal for us.”
In the past two years, more than $13,000 has been raised to benefit the Trevor Project.
This year, the free-spirited festival from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, July 9, will feature a new location moving from the Port Gamble ballfields to Kingston’s Mike Wallace Park.
Organizers hope the convenient downtown location next to the ferry terminal will increase the number of participants. With stages and an open space for booths, there can be a greater number of resources and workshops from neighboring organizations with the same vision
At 1:30 p.m. with Christine Castigliano, lead facilitator of Teen Talking Circles, will present “Keeping it Real: the Art and Skill of Be-Longing” workshop which will delve into the soul-satisfaction of listening to yourself and others without fear of judgment.
To spread awareness, at 3:30 p.m. a “Where to Turn in Crisis” workshop with Kelly Schwab, program manager of Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas, will openly address how to identify someone in emotional crisis and find the resources available to help. While the focus will primarily be concentrated on those experiencing thoughts of suicide, the discussion will include resources for anyone in emotional crisis.
Other booths include artist Harold Pulhug, Kitsap Arts and Crafts, Shanti Living Wellness, Kitsap Regional Library, artist Stephanie Duerr, Kitsap Community Suicide Prevention Coalition, West Sound Academy, Sugar Studios, Viking Ice Cream and Peninsula Pies.
Headliner band “Lavender Country” will perform their hit songs including “Back in the Closet Again.”
The American country music band formed in 1972, had the first known gay-themed album in country music history.
Other bands include Social Breakdown, Eleventy One, Foxing Gloves, Tetrachromat, Cityscapes and Babe Waves.
To bring a greater attention to the mission of the event, the LTYA team participated in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade June 25, displaying a 14-by-16½-foot float, and passing out thousands of brochures to more than 200,000 Pride participants.
As in previous LTYA festivals, a table with art supplies will be open for participants to create mini works of art which they can add to the public art wall display. All are encouraged to create a work for the wall, which will then be offered for sale at $3 each to benefit the cause.
A raffle and LTYA merchandise including buttons, stickers, bumper stickers and posters will also be featured.
While the mission of the event is to provide the community with greater awareness and raise money to help prevent suicidal thoughts and actions through a day of creative education, organizers say the family-friendly event is open to anyone.
“Put yourself out there to the conversation,” Swanson encouraged. “Be a careful and respectful listener, and be open because this event is about accepting everybody.”
And while the LTYA committee said this event is not an issue of politics, they say, due to the nation’s uncertain times, there is a lot of anxiety in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, in the days following the election of President Donald Trump, calls, chats and texts to the Trevor Project were the highest in the organization’s history.
“While we ultimately do not want to have LTYA publicly support or attack any partisan political views, we fully recognize that the election has caused an extreme, justified, level of anxiety in the LGBTQ community,” Swanson said. “There has been a dramatic increase of people concerned about acceptance and equality. This objective fact doesn’t matter politically, this is an issue of human life.”
And for people like Artis, having someone there to support and understand, was “the turning point.”
“LTYA has given me resources to reach out and talk to people like me,” Artis said. “Through learning about the Trevor Project I’ve made a lot of connections in my own life.”
Artis encourages those struggling with thoughts of suicide/depression to “help yourself in the future, by giving yourself a future,” and if anyone ever tells you they have considered or attempted suicide, tell someone.
Artis, who’s name originates from the Greek language meaning “of the goddess of the hunt,” is still hunting for wholeness and happiness. And, as an incoming senior, plans to pursue music and composing after graduation from West Sound Academy in 2018.
“Just to be OK, that’s my main goal,” Artis said.
Admission to Listen to Your Art is free, with a suggested donation of $15.
Sponsors include Disney/Youth Summer of Service, the Dry Eye Company, Suquamish Foundation, Jenny Davis Jazz, the Lanning Family, and the Boat Company.
West Sound Academy, is the fiscal sponsor of Listen to Your Art. All funds raised are split between LTYA programs,such as the summer festival or Friday Sound, and the Trevor Project.
For more information, or to help the cause, visit www.listentoyourart.org or follow Listen to Your Art on Facebook.