For Pride Month, I wanted to talk about an important mental health issue facing LGBTQ+ youth. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among North American youth, and the level of risk is even higher in LGBTQ+ youth. That’s not good.
Here are a few stats for LGBT youth:
- LGB youth attempt suicide five times more often than heterosexual youth, and having attempted once increases the risk of future attempts
- LGB youth are at higher risk for suicide than LGB adults, with bullying, physical violence, and rejection/isolation contributing to this increased risk
- In one survey, 39% of LGB youth and over half of trans and non-binary youth, had seriously contemplated suicide within the past twelve months
- In a study by Austin et al. (2020), 86% of transgender youth had experienced suicidal thinking, and 56% had made a previous suicide attempt
Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t inherently make youth more susceptible to mental illness and/or suicide; society manages to do that for them That means change isn’t going to happen by focusing on these vulnerable youth. We as a society need to stop screwing them over.
Social isolation is a significant risk factor, and can result from bullying by peers, microaggressions, and lack of support, or outright rejection, by families. Family support, strong connections to the LGBTQ+ community, and the presence of gay-straight alliances in schools help to decrease the risk.
Lack of support on a societal level also makes a difference. Discriminatory laws affect the mental wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community, and legalizing same-sex marriage is associated with decreased suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth.
Poverty increases the risk of suicide, and bisexual and transgender people are overrepresented among low-income Canadians. In both Canada in the US, and presumably many other places, trans people have reported high levels of violence, harassment, and discrimination when seeking basic services like housing and health care. Homelessness is also a risk factor, and LGBTQ+ are overrepresented among homeless youth in North America.
Youth who have gone through conversion therapy (an abusive practice that tries to force people to be straight) are twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who have not. Conversion therapy remains legal in the US, UK, and Canada, although there are some regional bans. The Canadian government has introduced a bill to ban conversion therapy, and hopefully that will be passed into law soon.
I wrote not too long ago about Arkansas passing a law that prohibited transgender youth from accessing puberty blockers and other gender-affirming care. It turns out that could cost some trans youth their lives. In a study released last year, trans people who wanted puberty blockers but didn’t receive them were more likely to experience suicidal ideation than those who did receive puberty blockers. Among participants who were unable to access puberty blockers, a whopping 90% experienced suicidal ideation.
There are some good resources available to support LGBTQ+ youth, including the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project. But just as importantly, none of this needs to be this way. Hate and fear don’t help our kids. We can do better than this, and that starts with all of us and our attitudes.
What do you think can be done to address this elevated risk of suicide?
- American Association of Suicidology: Suicidal Behavior Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Fact Sheet
- Austin, A., Craig, S. L., D’Souza, S., & McInroy, L. B. (2020). Suicidality among transgender youth: elucidating the role of interpersonal risk factors. Journal of interpersonal violence.
- Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health
- Centre for Suicide Prevention: Sexual minorities and suicide prevention
- The 519: LGBTQ2S Youth Suicide
- Turban, J. L., King, D., Carswell, J. M., & Keuroghlian, A. S. (2020). Pubertal suppression for transgender youth and risk of suicidal ideation. Pediatrics, 145(2)
- Wikipedia: Suicide among LGBT youth
The Straight Talk on Suicide page covers a variety of topics related to suicide, including getting help and safety planning, from the perspective of someone who’s been there.