How One Teen Tried To Kill Himself 3 Times, And Became An Advocate For LGBTQ Safe Spaces
Zachary Mallory was 14 when he had his first boyfriend. Outing him on social media before he was ready to go public with his feelings triggered a chain of Mallory’s issues with identity and trust, which sparked his first of three suicide attempts. He had his share of “girlfriends,” a ritual inviting young boys to participate lest they want to be marginalized. But looking and feeling different, he says, made him the target of bullying and emotional abuse all throughout his high school life.
According to a Human Rights Campaign survey, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience bullying from peers than their cisgender counterparts, typically shifting their focus away from grades and plans for the future. And while the federal government introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act last year, more work needs to be done at the local level. And that’s where Mallory comes in.
Now, an LGBTQ student diversity volunteer at Red Cross and mental health and suicide prevention advocate from Kansas City, Missouri, Mallory spoke to me about finding help, finding his voice, and launching a platform promoting the dialogue he wish he had at his disposal all along. This is what he had to say:
He posted a picture of me and him — a simple selfie. It wasn’t anything derogatory. He went into a whole thing saying “Zach came out and we’re together” and blah, blah, blah. He was part of the reason I attempted suicide the first time, where I overdosed by mixing prescription and over-the-counter drugs with alcohol, and I slit my wrists with a knife under the desk in front of my teacher. It felt like a whole new world because I did everything I could do to make the pain go away but it made the pain worse. It’s a Band-Aid. Once you come off the drugs, you still have that underlying problem. I was still bullied immensely in school. Pushed into lockers. Had stuff thrown at me. I came back and felt like shit again.
It hurt so much because I’ve read so many awful anti-LGBTQ news articles and didn’t want to be disowned or end up on the streets. I then got into drugs, went into rehab and developed major depression. My parents are from an older generation, so while what I was feeling wasn’t normal to them, they accepted me. My mom pushed me to talk about everything that happened. I continued to deny everything and said my ex posted the picture against my will.
It’s a Band-Aid. Once you come off the drugs, you still have that underlying problem.
The second time I tried to kill myself was after I came out to my parents. I wrote them a letter talking about the past year to two years about having boyfriends and different experiences they might not be okay with. I took more drugs to numb the pain, and didn’t care about my life anymore. My mom just thought I tried to overdose accidentally, but it was on purpose to take my own life. I wanted so badly to follow through with my plan. I threatened to kill myself in front of my mom while holding a knife to my neck. She grabbed it out of my hands and called an ambulance. I had drugs in my system so I don’t remember much of it.
I was sitting on the ground and the paramedic asked if I was okay. I shrugged. They strapped me down because I was serious about killing myself and didn’t want them to interfere. I blamed my mother for not accepting me. Lo and behold, she truly does accept me. It was all in my head. It was then that I was diagnosed with manic depression — clarifying something I already knew.
The third time I tried to commit suicide was while experiencing a host of side effects while taking 12 different medications just to keep calm (some of those weren’t prescribed). Later that night, I got really moody. I got off the phone with one of my friends, where I heard my other friends were calling me a psycho and that I should have just ended my life to get out of my misery. I started throwing things. When I’m pissed off, I try to write. But that didn’t help. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and started immediately cutting my wrists. I have the scars that show what happened. I think to myself like, “Jesus Christ. What the hell is wrong with me?”
That was my moment of clarity. My path to recovery started when I went to my first Pride festival in Kansas City and got connected to other leaders and organizations. They referred me to crisis lines because I was talking about wanting to commit suicide. I said “I’m a struggling teen who needs motivation to pull myself together and get out there.”
I’m starting my project called VoiceMatters, which focuses on suicide prevention and mental health awareness and it will provide advocacy and outreach services. I advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which protects students from gender discrimination, sexual expression and race. I focus on voice and sharing stories and fostering an open a dialogue. I don’t just focus on LGBTQ matters, but on everyone. We’re all human and all go through this. It’s kind of like HIV. It doesn’t only happen to gay people.
Untreated mental illness coupled with abuse from my peers was at the core of my problem, and that rings true for so many people. There’s so much stigma around mental health so people are worried they’ll get shit when they’re open about their struggles. I’ve heard people say those struggling with mental illness should kill themselves. People are turned down for treatment for mental health because they came out as gay. I hear about transgender suicide and wonder when it’s going it end. But I’m so glad I soldiered on, because I just graduated high school.
We’re all human and all go through this. It’s kind of like HIV. It doesn’t only happen to gay people.
Change starts with yourself. You have EMS, police, nurses, doctors, teachers and counsellors at your disposal, but what we need to implement is mental health first-aid, where you’ll learn to cope with these crises and how to respond to it. Those with suicidal tendencies are adamant about wanting to go through with it, so you have to contextualize it for the sufferer: How are people you love going to feel if you’re gone? Your mom, your best friend? Mental health is an overlooked subject. It’s not talked about the way it should be. I want to be that voice for people who don’t have anyone to talk to.