Two weekends ago I attended the Conference on LGBT Suicide Risk and Prevention at the San Francisco State University. While I knew that LGBT peoples had higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts than their heterosexual peers, the numbers were themselves shocking. Anne Haas, PhD, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explained that, overall, there are some data discrepancies when it comes to counting LGBT people. Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) are not identified in death certificates, nor is it systematically identified in the National Violent Death Reporting System; this prevents the analysis of suicide mortality rates by SOGI.
Per Dr. Haas’ presentation we learned that suicide attempts are four times higher among gay and bisexual male adult sand adolescents, two times higher among lesbians and bisexual female adults and adolescents than their heterosexual counterparts. When you consider teens independently LGB youth have three times higher rates of suicide attempts and four times higher rates of medically serious attempts. While only 4.6% of U.S. adults, and somewhere between 8 and 10% of U.S. teens reported a suicide attempt in their lifetime, 10 to 20% of LGB adults and 30% of LGB adolescents reported a suicide attempt. Transgender folks had even higher rates with 25% of transgender teens reporting a suicide attempt, in one study, while 25 to 43% of transgender adults reported a suicide attempt. again these ranges are due to findings reported by different studies. LGB people from ethnic and racial minority communities had even higher rates.
While depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems are higher among LGBT adults and adolescents, and may be contributing factors towards these high numbers of suicide attempts, we cannot separate these from the facts that discriminatory institutional and social environments produce minority stress among LGBT people. Rejection, discrimination, victimization and high-levels of violence due to anti-transgender bias are specific to transgender people’s experiences with minority stress. Even more important for LGBT teens is the facts of family rejection and a lack of support for LGBT youth in social environments of school, church and among peers. Dr. Haas also stated concern for the way media is framing bullying of LGBT youth and suicide, almost linking the two and perhaps normalizing suicide as a viable solution to bullying, especially among vulnerable youth.
All of this can get quite depressing. But Dr. Haas pointed out there are certain things that protect LGBT people from suicidal ideation, and prevention strategies that can work to reduce LGBT suicide attempts. Seeing one sexual identity in a positive light, connectedness to lesbian and gay community, safety in school and other environments, and family connectedness, acceptance and support were all factors that lowered suicide risk according to various research. Prevention strategies that are suggested by Dr. Haas included timely identification and referral of LGBT people with depression, hopelessness or other mental health concerns, the expansion of effective, accessible, culturally appropriate mental health treatments for LGBT adult and youth, family interventions to increase acceptance and support of LGBT youth and laws and policies that prevent LGBT discrimination and victimization.
Stay tuned for next week’s expansion on this topic, looking at programs aimed at suicide prevention with LGBT youth, their families and faith communities.