Sexual Identity (LGBTQ)
Note: Because of limited research the Transgender(T), and Questioning(Q) groups are not included (unless specifically noted) in all statistics listed.
There has been much media attention of suicide attempts and completions within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) population. However, it is important to note that being LGBTQ is not a risk factor of suicide itself. On this page we will talk about some of the risk factors and current data. There is limited research on the death rates due to suicide within the LGBTQ population because sexual identity is not documented on a death certificate and many times the sexual identity wasn't known to friends and family of the deceased and does not show up in a psychological autopsy.
LGB individuals are at an increased risk for non-lethal suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. The risk especially is exaggerated in gay and bisexual males who were four times more likely to make a suicide attempt than heterosexual males.
On average, LGBT individuals often encounter discrimination and harassment more often than the heterosexual population. Both discrimination and harassment have been shown to be directly associated with suicidal behavior, as well as indirectly with risk factors for suicide. Widespread discrimination against LGBT people and gender bias can lead to risk factors such as isolation, family rejection, and lack of access to care providers. The risk factors may be compounded by a lack of protective factors. While lack of protective factors generally is seen in the LGBT youth, it can occur at any age. A lack of a supportive social environment may put stress on LGBT people and elevate the risk of substance abuse, depression, anxiety and other emotional problems.
There is still not a lot of research done on suicide and LGBT individuals. Increased risk for suicide likely is due to factors shared by other high-risk groups for suicide. However, along with other risk factors for suicide, LGBT people may experience stigma, prejudice, and discrimination related to sexual orientation.
Information for Youth
Little can be said with certainty about the extent of suicide deaths among the LGB youth. While hard data on suicide rates for LGB youth are lacking, research has established that the most reliable indicators of suicide risk are suicide ideation and prior attempts. It is speculated that due to the increased reported ideation and attempts within the LGB population that the death rate is also higher, but there is little data to support that at this time.
LGB youth as a group experience more suicidal behavior than other youth. Studies have found that LGB high school students and students unsure of their sexual orientation were 3.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide in the last year than their straight peers. LGB youth also report an increase in really having hoped to die by suicide after an attempt compared to heterosexual youth. There are a couple times that suicide risk is particularly higher in LGB youth. Those times are at the time of disclosing one's sexual orientation to others (coming out) and after the loss of friendships due to coming out. Note, that not all LGB youth will lose friendships over sexual orientation, but for those that do it can be a very troubling time.
Little research has been done about transgender individuals and higher rates of suicide. One study suggests that 30.1 percent of transgendered individuals reported attempting suicide; overall for the United States, 4.6 percent report that they've attempted suicide. It is reasonable to hypothesize that transgender youth also have elevated risk factors and lower protective factors. Transgender youth also experience high rates of rejection, physical and verbal abuse by peers and their family.
Up to 90 percent of people who die by suicide are believed to have a mental illness at the time of their death. LGB youth have been shown to have a higher rate of major depression, anxiety disorders, conduct disorder and co-occurring psychiatric disorders than their straight peers as found by Fergusson (1999). LGBT youth are also at higher risk of encountering bullying and physical violence than peers. While bullying does not cause suicide, it can cause depression which is a risk factor for suicide.
Citing a 2006 Psychology in the Schools report, The Trevor Project notes that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth who believe they have just one school staff member with whom they can talk about problems are only 1/3 as likely as those without that support to report making multiple suicide attempts in the past year.” Family support can be incredibly powerful in an LGBTQ individual's life. Family connectedness, caring adults, and school safety serve as protective factors from suicide for LGB individuals. LGB youth that experienced severe family rejection were more than 8 times more likely to report having attempted suicide compared to peers from families with little or no rejection. LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless due to family members asking them to leave. A study found that 62 percent of LGBT homeless teens reported attempting suicide, compared to 29 percent of non-homeless LGBT youth.
LGB youth often generally have more risk factors, more severe risk factors, and fewer protective factors than heterosexual youth. Disclosure as LGB at an early age appears to be a risk factor for suicide specific to LGB youth. Alcohol and depression often are noted as common risk factors. While the majority of youth who are clinically depressed or who abuse drugs or alcohol do not attempt suicide, it should be monitored in youth displaying other warning signs and risk factors for suicide.
Ways to Increase Protective Factors
- Implement training for staff to effectively serve LGBTQ youth by including recognition and response to warning signs for suicide.
- Include information about higher rates of suicidal behavior in LGBTQ youth in health promotion materials.
- Assess and ensure that youth services and providers are inclusive, responsive to, and affirming the needs of LGBTQ youth.
- Develop peer-based support programs.
- Include the topic of coping with stress and discrimination and integrate specific activities for LGBTQ youth.
- Support staff advocacy for LGBTQ youth.
- Make accurate information about LGBTQ issues and resources easily available.
- Institute, enforce and keep up-to-date non-discrimination and non-harassment policies for all youth.
- Implement confidentiality policies that are clear, comprehensive and explicit.
- Assume that clients or students could be any sexual orientation or gender identity and respond accordingly.
Suicide Warning Signs
- Conduct problems (anti-social, aggression, impulsivity)
- Volatile mood swings or sudden changes in their personality
- A sudden deterioration in their personal appearance
- Increased risk-taking behavior
- Eating disorders
- Gender or sexual orientation issues
- Family chaos
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Romantic breakups
- Recent "coming out" or disclosure as LGBTQ
- Threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself
- Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
Information adapted from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, American Association of Suicidology.