Teenagers that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer are 63 percent more likely to risk suicide than their heterosexual peers, a new study reveals.
An analysis of survey data from 15,624 high school students found that 40 percent of sexual minority teens had considered suicide.
Suicide, especially among teens, has been on the rise and getting more attention in recent years, with shows like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why raising questions about how the topic can be approached without glamorizing it.
Yet, the data suggest that stigmas against homosexual, bisexual and transgender teens are very much alive and endangering the well-being of young people, the University of California and University of Pennsylvania study authors write.
A staggering 40 percent of teens that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer considered suicide in the last year, according to a new study’s disturbing findings
The new study took a look at differences in risks between sexual minorities and the rest of the student population, as well as between different minorities, though there was insufficient data on transgender students to draw conclusion from.
Study co-author Theodore Caputi – formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, now of University College Cork in Ireland – says their work is the first to take this more granular approach, in large part because the data simply has not been available.
Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Behavioral Risk, they calculated the strengths of links between sexual orientation and thoughts of or attempts at suicide.
This was a departure from most methods that use odds rations to compare groups.
Compared to the staggering 40 percent of LGBQ teens that reported seriously considering suicide, only 15 percent of straight teens said they had done the same.
Of the nearly half of LGBQ teens that had contemplated ending their own lives, a full quarter had made at least one attempt, whereas only six percent of those in the sexual majority had tried.
It’s easy to focus on the suicide completion, but Caputi urges stakeholders to pay attention to the whole picture his study paints.
‘Considering planning or attempting suicide is not just a risk of completed suicide,’ he says, ‘it’s a signal of distress in the lives of thousands of young people across the US.’
While he says that some ‘really great advancements’ have been made, LGBQ teens would not be considering and attempting suicide at these rates if they were not still facing significant stigma.
‘Fifteen years ago, we knew they were at a higher risk, and we wanted to see if that was still true,’ says Caputi.
Unfortunately, their findings suggest it is.
‘There is a lot of work that has to be done to mitigate the stressors that these young people are facing,’ he says.
The researchers also found that there were variations in risk between those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer.
Of those groups, female students were overall at the highest risks of suicidal thoughts or attempts, but the gap between risks for gay males and straight males was the widest.
Bisexual students were at disproportionately grave risks, with nearly one third reporting that they had attempted suicide in the last year, and nearly half having considered it.
This group, according to past research, is most likely of any sexual minority to be dismissed, falling between the cracks between ‘gay’ and ‘straight.’
A study published in May found that very few physicians ask the sexual orientations of their patients, and Caputi says his study’s findings are evidence that this needs to change.
‘It seems as though clinicians should discuss sex orientation with their patients,’ he says.
‘Obviously universal screening [for suicide risks] would be best, but if it’s not possible, this group is at such risks, we should hone in on it and make sure these adolescents are getting all the support we can possibly give them,’ says Caputi.
But, the effort can’t stop at the doctor’s office.
‘We need a multi-pronged approach, and the perspectives of many stakeholders,’ says Caputi.
‘The findings are a clear call to variety of stakeholders – not the least important of which are policy makers – that this community is still facing a wide variety of stressors in an intense way, affecting a large proportion of sexual minorities, and we need to start making changes so we can reduce those.’