LOS ANGELES, Calif.. — September is Suicide Prevention Month and the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law has compiled research that shows that anti-LGBTQ discrimination and victimization contribute to an increase in the risk of suicidality and that LGBTQ individuals are at disproportionate risk of suicidal ideation, planning and attempts.
Findings from the Institute’s data found that there is a high prevalence of suicidal behavior among those who identify as LGB. A 2016 review of research found 17 percent of LGB adults had attempted suicide during their lifetime, compared with 2.4 percent of the general U.S. population.
A recent report from the Generations Study, a nationally representative study of cisgender LGB individuals, found that LGBQ people who experienced conversion therapy were at higher risk for suicide behavior compared with their peers who did not undergo the practice.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that the prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts among transgender adults is significantly higher than that of the U.S. general population.
A 2019 analysis of the USTS found that respondents who faced discrimination, rejection, and violence were more likely to report suicide thoughts and attempts.
Some factors were associated with lower risk of suicide thoughts and attempts, however, for those who are transgender due to familial support and fulfillment of gender-affirming surgical care.
A 2014 report found that LGBTQ youth are at heightened risk for suicidal outcomes, but risk varies based on sex and race/ethnicity. In general, LGBTQ youth were three times more likely than non-LGBQ youth to contemplate suicide, make a suicide plan, harm themselves or attempt suicide compared to non-LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ females had higher prevalence of suicide thoughts, attempts and self-harm than their male counterparts. Compared to white LGBTQ youth, Asian and Black LGBTQ youth were at significantly lower odds of suicidal ideation, suicide planning, and self-harm. Alaskan Native/Pacific Islander and Latino LGBTQ youths were at significantly higher risk of a suicide attempt in the past year.
A 2019 report found that anti-bullying laws that explicitly protect youth based on sexual orientation are associated with fewer suicide attempts among all youth, regardless of sexual orientation.
“Experiences of discrimination and bullying can lead to suicidal behavior in LGBT people,” said Ilan Meyer, distinguished senior scholar of Public Policy at the Institute. “Policies and interventions that effectively reduce stigma and discrimination while strengthening support networks and community connectedness could help reduce the risk of suicide for LGBT adults and youth.”
However, The Trevor Project released new research that highlights the prevalence of unmet mental healthcare needs among LGBTQ youth, a population the organization says has been found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicide. The report, “Breaking Barriers to Quality Mental Health Care for LGBTQ Youth,” details the numerous barriers LGBTQ youth face when trying to access mental healthcare and how those barriers operate within and across intersecting social identities. Overall, more than half of LGBTQ youth who reported wanting mental healthcare in the past year did not receive it.
The most commonly endorsed barrier was the inability to afford care. LGBTQ-specific barriers included concerns around being outed, not having their LGBTQ identity understood or overly focusing on their LGBTQ identity and not finding a provider who was LGBTQ. Youth-specific concerns relating to not wanting to get parental permission and having parents who refused to allow care were also endorsed by LGBTQ youth. Additional barriers endorsed by LGBTQ youth include previous negative experiences, as well as transportation concerns, such as having no way to get to the location or having the location be too far away.
Race/ethnicity, gender, geography and socioeconomic status were all significant predictors of whether or not an LGBTQ youth received the mental healthcare they desired.
Insurance challenges were very frequently mentioned as a reason youth were unable to receive desired mental healthcare. This included both lack of insurance coverage as well as insurance coverage that was too limiting to provide appropriate care.
“Given the disproportionately higher rates of mental health challenges and suicide attempts reported by LGBTQ youth, any barriers to mental health care can have enormous consequences. We must act now to break down these barriers to save lives,” said Dr. Amy E. Green, director of Research for The Trevor Project.
“Establishing a mental health care system that is equitable, effective, and available for all will not be easy. It will require major investment in public-funded programs and a wide variety of policy changes aimed at expanding access, improving the cultural competency of providers, and eliminating structural barriers. And from the top down, we must all work together to actively confront mental health stigma and reduce fears around asking for help.” Dr. Green added, “COVID-19 has highlighted vast disparities that exist within the U.S. mental health care system, while also demonstrating that mental health care can be effectively provided via telephone or video conferencing when necessary. The advancements in telehealth services prompted by the pandemic have expanded the ability for those in need to receive care and should be adopted and expanded upon long term.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance” results for 2019 that found that 43 percent of transgender youth have been bullied on school property. And, 29 percent of transgender youth, 21 percent of gay and lesbian youth and 22 percent of bisexual youth have attempted suicide, the Human Rights Campaign shared.
“With quarantine safety measures in place across the country, LGBTQ+ youth are at an even greater risk of social isolation and depression,” ISP.com Communications Coordinator Jim Mitchell shared. “Online resources have become increasingly more important for LGBTQ+ youth to maintain their mental and emotional health during and after this period.” He offered a list of resources that ISP has online as a tool for youth. LGBTQ+ Youth Are Not Alone can be found at isp.com/blog/lgbtq-youth-online-resources.