New Research on LGBTQ Teen Suicide Rates

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New research from the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health underlines a consistent trend: Lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender teens are at increased risk of suicide. One of the most diverse surveys of LGBTQ youth ever conducted, the research examined LGBTQ teen suicide rates and protective factors. The respondents included a high percentage (45 percent) of LGBTQ youth of color, and 48 percent were transgender or nonbinary youth.

One of the most startling statistics: 50 percent of LGBTQ teens (ages 13–17) seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. And 18 percent actually made a suicide attempt. That’s more than twice the rate of suicide attempts among all US teens, which is 9 percent. The new research sheds light on the critical importance of suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth. Parents, teachers, mentors, and policymakers must help ensure that LGBTQ teens receive ongoing support and access to mental healthcare resources.

Statistics on Mental Health and Suicide Among LBGTQ Youth

LGBTQ teen suicide rates and LGBTQ mental health statistics reflect the societal and relationship challenges that these young people face. The Trevor Project’s new survey captured the experiences of some 34,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 13 to 24, across the United States. Here are some of the key findings:

  • 75 percent of LGBTQ teens experienced symptoms of anxiety in the past year.
  • 61 percent experienced symptoms of depression.
  • Among all LGBTQ youth surveyed (ages 13–24), 82 percent wanted mental healthcare in the past year.
  • However, 60 percent of those youth were unable to access care.

“We hope these data and trends will be used by fellow researchers, policymakers, and youth-serving organizations to advance policies and practices that better support LGBTQ youth around the globe and work to end the public health crisis of suicide.”

—Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director, The Trevor Project

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population. Research shows that low family satisfaction, cyberbullying victimization, and unmet medical needs contributed to their higher rates of depression. The Trevor Project found that the pandemic also contributed to mental health challenges: 60 percent of teens reported experiencing poor mental health sometimes or all the time since the pandemic began.

LGBTQ Youth and Substance Abuse

Statistics on substance abuse in LGBTQ youth show that they use alcohol and drugs at higher rates than their straight, cisgender peers. This is not surprising, given that substance abuse is typically a behavioral symptom of underlying depression, trauma, and anxiety. A Trevor Project research brief found that 47 percent of LGBTQ youth under age 21 used alcohol in the past year. Moreover, 29 percent of LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the last year. And 11 percent reported using a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them.

Most significant, higher rates of substance abuse in this population was directly associated with LGBTQ teen suicide rates. Regular prescription drug misuse was associated with nearly three times greater odds of attempting suicide. Regular alcohol use was associated with nearly 50 percent higher likelihood of attempting suicide. And LGBTQ youth under age 21 who regularly used marijuana were nearly twice as likely (1.67 times) to attempt suicide.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources: LGBT suicide statistics

LGBTQ Suicide Rates vs. International Averages

review study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at how many LGBTQ people die by suicide each year and what percentage of transgender people die by suicide. Compiling data from 35 previous studies, the analysis involved close to 2.4 million heterosexual youth and 113,468 LGBTQ youth, ages 12 to 20, from 10 countries. The results included the following LGBTQ teen suicide rates:

  • LGBTQ youth were 3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.
  • The suicide rate among trans teens was 5.87 times higher than the average among all teens.
  • Gay and lesbian youth were 3.71 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Bisexual youth were 3.69 times more likely to attempt suicide than teens who identified as heterosexual.

Why Are LGBTQ Teens Vulnerable to Suicide?

All teenagers are at risk for suicide. But LBGTQ youth suicide rates are higher because their risks are compounded. As The Trevor Project states, “LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.” Most profoundly, they experience rejection or lack of support from their family members much more often than their heterosexual peers. Nonbinary and transgender family rejection statistics are particularly striking: The 2022 survey found that fewer than one-third of transgender and nonbinary youth say they live in a gender-affirming home.

Moreover, stigma and threats of violence from peers and society at large further impact their mental health and well-being. The Trevor Project survey found that LGBTQ youth who experienced anti-LGBTQ victimization, including being physically threats or harm, discrimination, or conversion therapy, reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year.

Hence, the feelings of isolation or “otherness” that often accompany adolescence are magnified for LGBTQ teens. These challenges can be particularly overwhelming for younger adolescents. A 2019 study of LGBTQ teen suicide rates found that one out of four suicides (24 percent) in adolescents age 12 to 14 were among LGBTQ youth. Researchers found that family problems most often contributed to suicides among younger teens.

“We already knew, or at least suspected, that younger people are especially vulnerable to the stress of coming out. This is because they don’t have the psychological resources or personal independence to handle things themselves that they will have when they are older.”

—2019 study author Geoffrey Ream of Adelphi University

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources: LGBT suicide statistics

What LGBTQ Youth Face in Schools

In addition to difficulty at home, LGBTQ youth in schools often face bullying, threats of injury, and sexual violence. The following data on LGBTQ teenagers comes from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

  • 10 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
  • 34 percent were bullied on school property
  • 28 percent experienced cyberbullying
  • 23 percent who had dated someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence
  • 18 percent students had experienced physical dating violence
  • Another 18 percent had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.

As a result, LGBTQ students were 140 percent more likely than their heterosexual peers to skip school at least one day during the 30 days prior to the surveys.

Schools and government policies can make a difference for LGBTQ youth. Youth living in states with anti-bullying laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity report less homophobic victimization and harassment. In addition, schools with Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs provide a more supportive environment for LGBTQ youth.

What Parents Can Do to Counteract LGBTQ Youth Suicide Rates 

Research has consistently shown that support from parents and peers leads to better mental health, greater self-acceptance, and enhanced well-being among LGBTQ youth. According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth who feel high social support from their family attempt suicide at less than half the rate of those who feel low or moderate social support. Here’s how to offer that all-important support.

Communicate often.

Frequent, open conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity allow teens to share their feelings. At this age, their emotions may shift from day to day, and talking with a caring parent can have a stabilizing effect. Parents should listen closely to what their adolescents share. In addition, parents should educate their teens about how to avoid unsafe situations. Read “How to Talk to Teens.”

Work as a team.

Parents and LGBTQ teenagers can work together to navigate any challenges that arise. They can also develop a set of shared goals for their teen, such as staying healthy, doing well in school, and creating a strong support system within and outside the family. This will help teens trust that they are cared for.

Stay tuned to what’s going on in their life. 

Parents of LGBTQ-IA teens need to stay involved, so they learn what their child’s experience at school is like. Moreover, they need to watch for signs of bullying (including cyberbullying) or other discrimination at school. In addition, parents can get to know their teen’s friends and romantic partners. This will help them offer guidance as their adolescent learns to build strong relationships outside the family.

Find resources to support suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth.

Organizations like the The Trevor Project offer resources and support, in person and online, for LGBTQ teenagers and their families. In addition, families can reach out to their doctor, a mental health professional, or a teen treatment center for advice and referrals. Parents need to be on the lookout for any signs of depression, suicidal thoughts, or other mental health concerns. With early assessment and treatment, successful outcomes are likely. Therefore, LGBTQ teen suicide rates will hopefully start to trend downward.

Finally, parents of LGBTQ teens need to remind their children often that they are unconditionally loved, and they will always be there to support them. As with all teenagers, feeling accepted and loved will make a positive impact on their lives, now and into the future.

Sources:

The Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2022

CDC Supplements. 2020 Aug; 69(1): 47–55.

J Adolesc Health. 2019 Jan.  

JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(12):1145–1152.

Pediatrics. 2018 May;141(5).

Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2018;12:8.

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2016 Mar 28; 12: 465–487. 

Journal of GLBT Family Studies. 14(1–2):130–151.