It Gets Better
Being a young person can be a challenging journey.
Though we live in an ever-changing world, prejudice and intolerance still plagues us and discriminates against us for being who we want to be. Such discrimination can make life feel like a fight. It makes it feel like a fight to be who we want to be. As young people we are especially vulnerable. Discrimination hits us hard as we take our first steps into an unpredictable world. It’s hard enough trying to find out who we are as individuals without being attacked by society in a way which makes us feel worthless, insecure and alone.
These feelings can cause some to take drastic action, claiming their own lives as their life journey becomes all the more challenging. In fact, around a million people commit suicide every year. It’s the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 24 according to the World Health Organisation. Here in New Zealand, youth suicide is particularly high compared to other OECD countries. Suicide is a tragedy which affects all societies across the globe.
Some factors that lead to suicide include discrimination, prejudice and intolerance. Suicide can be seen as a cry for help. So how can we address this?
They say prejudice is ignorance. So too are discrimination and intolerance. As such, we need to be those who encourage people to be compassionate to others’ differences. We need to tell those who continue to discriminate that it is not OK.
Many people around the world are taking action on this cause. People from around the world have gathered for campaigns against hate crimes like discrimination which cause many young people to claim their own lives. Campaigns such as the It Gets Better project, which aims to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that there is light at the end of the tunnel, sees celebrities and ordinary people alike telling their stories and bringing messages of hope.
In his It Gets Better video, US President Barack Obama said that we should all have the right “to pursue our own version of happiness, be true to ourselves” and to make our “differences a source of pride and strength.”
But it’s not only up to him. It’s not only up to those who submit their messages for the world to see.
It’s up to us.
Some experts say that suicide flourishes in silence, and we can’t stay silent on an issue which is killing our peers. We need to have an understanding of the common humanity we have as people, and also be compassionate to the differences we all have. Whatever our ethnicity, sexuality, talents or passions, we all have the right to embrace them.
So how do we take action?
If you’re the subject of discrimination, prejudice or intolerance, it’s important to tell someone. It’s important to know that you’re not alone. By speaking to someone you trust – be it a friend, teacher, sports coach or school guidance counsellor, a huge load can be taken off your mind. Believe me, it helps.
If you know someone who’s the subject of discrimination, prejudice or intolerance, make sure that you listen. Let them know that it’s fine to be who you want to be, that everyone has the right to be happy, and that they don’t have to do it alone. Former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Let’s not give our consent to those who try to make us feel inferior. Let’s not give our consent to those who try to make our peers feel inferior.
Let’s speak out. Let those who are feeling worthless, insecure and alone know that we are there for them and that we accept them for who they are.
Let them know that it gets better.
If you don’t want to tell someone you know, call up a youth helpline. They’re safe, confidential and supporting.
By Jonathan Gee – UNICEF NZ Youth Ambassador