Suicide Talk

Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ+ Youth – A Pride Month Post

Elevated suicide risk among LGBTQ+ youth - pride flag and suicide prevention ribbon

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.

Stats

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

Risk factors

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.

What now?

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?

References

Straight talk on suicide - graphics of phoenix and semicolon

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.

23 thoughts on “Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ+ Youth – A Pride Month Post”

  1. I don’t have much to add but I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this. I myself am a gay man and it’s great to see people talking about this. Happy pride everyone!

  2. This is disappointing to read, but I’m not surprised at all. This is what happens when people won’t allow you to do what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your skin. I read a quote recently that said something along the lines of “our only purpose in life is to do what it takes to not kill ourselves.” I feel like this can be interpreted in many ways, but for me, it means doing what it takes to be mentally well.

  3. Say, have you ever done a post about microaggressions? I’d love to learn more about the concept!

    This is heartbreaking and difficult to read about! There needs to be a strong sense of community and more understanding across the board. Conversion therapy is beyond wrong, like forcing a left-handed person to use their right hand, but a million times worse. Only a small-minded person would engage in such tactics.

    I think what we need is for many, many people who are trans to describe the experience of being trans in great detail so that the rest of us can acknowledge it as a legitimate experience. There’s a tendency among conservatives to believe that kids are pretending to be trans because it’s cool and trendy. [Facepalm.] The truth about that needs to break through to people who can’t open their minds to the actual reality of being trapped in the wrong gendered body.

    1. The thing with that, though, is that it’s not hard to find trans people sharing their stories. I don’t know what to do about people who aren’t willing to open their minds to hearing those stories.

  4. Suicide is usually the byproduct of prolonged depression. Being different is not easy. Being young and different is really difficult. Youth has no room for different. The only answer is talking about it and learning to cope. Better times are ahead.

  5. I feel that the media needs to be more affirming concerning the trans-gender community. Some shows have tackled the issue, one show that comes to mind is “Law & Order SUV”. They have done several episodes about this very issue. It is hard to watch them because they are presenting raw hard truths. If only more shows would address these issues.
    Some companies are finally placing ads that show a mixture of LGBTQ people. It is about time.
    When it comes to conversion therapy, some preachers need a good tongue lashing. I hope Canada passes the legislation to ban this practice. It is horrendous!

  6. How I explain gender dysphoria to cisgender people: say the cisgender woman doctor I had to come out to in order to get the referral I needed… “imagine one day you woke up but your body is male. How would you feel?”

    It’s like cis men who develop gynecomastia, they feel gender dysphoria from that.

  7. This post is so important. It infuriates me that conversion is allowed to be placed next to the word “therapy”. I also wasn’t aware that it’s still for the most part legal in the US… Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is such an important issue. Its such a difficult journey and widely misunderstood and misrepresented. Thank you for the solid information and resources Ashley.

Leave a Reply