Black River Falls (WQOW) – People who identify as LGBTQ are nearly three times more likely to develop a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. That’s according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a reality a teen from Black River Falls is living; struggling with his sexuality, which led to suicidal thoughts.
“Some things that were said to me was f**, queer, that I should just die, that I don’t belong here,” said Eric Wojtalewicz.
Eric Wojtalewicz came out as gay two years ago, and he says many of his classmates were not supportive.
“I would try to change my whole personality and try to fit in the best I could, but I would have to change my whole self, and it put me through a lot of stress and anxiety,” said Wojtalewicz.
Now 18 years old, Wojtalewicz says he’s in a much better mindset.
But for years, he believed the bullies.
“I went through a period where I wouldn’t eat,” said Wojtalewicz. “I was just hoping from me not eating, I would just die and fall over or one day, I would pray, I would pray to just not wake up from my sleep.”
His pain is not unique.
A 2017 Wisconsin Department of Instruction survey found 41 percent of high school students who identified as LGBTQ, admitted to having suicidal thoughts.
“There’s no shame in seeking services and there’s no shame in asking for help,” said Morrigan Villa, an LGBTQ advocate with Bolton Refuge House.
Bolton Refuge House in Eau Claire provides services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but they also address the needs of the LGBTQ community including weekly support groups.
“Having support and feeling as though you’re being supported in everything that you’re going through in your life and having your traumas heard is an incredibly valuable experience,” Villa said.
According to UW-Health, LGBTQ youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight or cisgender peers, who are people who identify with the gender they were born with.
Through counseling, Wojtalewicz found his own ways to cope by hiking and journaling.
“I like to write down all the bad things that happened that day and then rip it up or shred it or burn it just to say hey, tomorrow’s going to be a new day,” said Wojtalewicz.
If you’re thinking about taking your own life, Wojtalewicz says look to the future.
“I think about going to college and doing stuff like this. It might be hard right now, but once you go across that bridge or over that hill, it gets a lot better,” said Wojtalewicz.
After graduating high school, Wojtalewicz plans on attending UW-Green Bay-Marinette in the fall, majoring in pre-med and psychology to become a psychologist.
Patricia Stein, the executive director of Bolton Refuge House, provided News 18 the following statement to go along with this story:
“Bolton Refuge House is here to assist individuals who are victims of intimate partner violence not only within the Eau Claire, Jackson, and Buffalo Counties, but also to assist individuals from surrounding counties such as Chippewa, Dunn, Clark, and Trempealeau. Bolton Refuge House is sensitive to individuals and the desire that they may have to reach out to service providers not within their own community. Bolton Refuge House staff is ready to address the needs of the LGBTQ+ population in a sensitive and trauma-informed care way. Bolton Refuge House has staff available 24 hours a day, and a behavioral health counselor on staff. All services are confidential and at no cost to participants.”
Resources relating to suicide and/or LGBTQ needs in the Chippewa Valley:
- Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center
- Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at UW-Eau Claire
- Bolton Refuge House
- Tammy Kelser, Therapist, Eau Claire
- Kristen Gustavson, Therapist, Eau Claire
- Kayres Counseling, Menomonie
- Prevent Suicide Chippewa Valley Coalition
- Eau Claire City-County Health Department