5 Facts To Know About LGBTQ Suicide Risk During National Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and while the topic of suicide can be sensitive, emotional, and painful, it's important to discuss it as the health crisis that it is. While suicide can and does impact anyone, suicide rates within the LGBTQ community in particular are staggering. That's why it's so important to talk about suicide prevention, what we can do to help people when they are in need, and how we can lend some extra help to those whom it affects disproportionately.
The fact of the matter is that suicide, while a concern for us all, can be especially common in communities and identities that face oppression, such as the queer community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide in comparison to their heterosexual and cisgender peers.
While everyone's experiences are different, it's important to have campaign and outreach programs that are specific to the needs of individual communities. Whether outreach campaigns exist in schools, communities, or the workplace, they are just one way of reaching out to others and letting them know that there are resources available, because suicide is never the answer.
While life is improving for many LGBTQ people, there is still a long way left to go in terms of legal protections and creating safe spaces for queer culture. As we continue the dialogue about queer issues and queer health, keep these five facts in mind. They're far from the only ones worth knowing, but they're a place to start. Because the issue is too important to ignore.
1. Being Bullied At School Has A Devastating & Lasting Impact On Those Who Experience It
According to data from the 2014 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, there is a strong correlation between experiencing anti-trans bullying at school and attempted suicide. The study found that more than half of students who experienced bullying based on their gender identity reported lifetime suicide attempts. For trans-identified students who experienced physical or sexual violence at school, their risk for suicide jumps to a scary 78 percent.
Additionally, study findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 discovered that LGB students were about 91 percent more likely to be bullied and 46 percent more likely to be victimized, compared to their heterosexual peers.
2. LGB Youth From Unsupportive Families Are At A Higher Risk Of Suicide
LGB youth whose families are not accepting of their sexual orientation are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Trevor Project. In fact, as a 2011 study from Columbia University discovered, a lack of support and safety can increase an LGB youth's suicide risk even outside of the family dynamic. Indeed, the researchers discovered that in counties where LGB youth feel unsupported, there is a 20 percent increase of attempted suicide. For LGB youth who are in unsupportive families and unsupportive locations, having positive resources and healthy support systems may literally be life-saving.
3. LGB High School Students Are Four Times As Likely To Attempt Suicide
According to The Trevor Project, high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. Given what we already know about the effect bullying has on LGBTQ students, and the fact that they are more likely to be bullied than their heterosexual peers, this number is sadly not surprising.
4. Gay And Bisexual Men Are Most Likely To Attempt Suicide Before The Age of 25
According to data from the American Journal of Public Health, an average of 20 percent of gay and bisexual men have created suicide plans, and 12 percent of that group attempted suicide in their lives. Furthermore, the study notes, most suicide attempts by gay and bisexual men occurred before the age of 25. The authors concluded that these men likely faced higher risk factors for suicide because they were in environments that were hostile to their sexual orientations.
5. Gay-Straight Alliances Reduce Suicide Risk For All Students
Suicide is a complex issue, and as is always the case with complex issues, there's unlikely to be a "one size fits all" solution that can work for all groups and populations. But recent research featured in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies offers some hope: It suggests that the presence of a gay-straight alliance in schools reduces the risk of suicide for all students, including both LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. In schools that had a GSA for more than three years, the odds of homophobic discrimination and suicidal thoughts were reduced by more than half among lesbian, gay, bisexual boys and girls compared to schools with no GSA. That's quite a significant finding indeed.
Luckily, there are resources available if you or someone you know needs help. LGBTQ-specific suicide prevention resources include The Trevor Project, a 24/7 hotline for LGBT suicidal youth; the It Gets Better Project, a 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ people who are in crisis; and the Trans Lifeline, the nation's only hotline specific for the transgender community that is completely staffed by transgender people.