LGBT Suicide Statistics Show Greater Risk Among Young Teens

New research underlines a consistent trend: Lesbian, gay, and transgender teens are at increased risk of suicide. A recent study of LGBT suicide statistics found that adolescents aged 12 to 14 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender are more likely to die by suicide than heterosexual teens of the same age.

The researchers concluded that one out of four pre- and early teen suicides were among LGBT youth. Moreover, suicide rates among older LGBT youth are also higher than rates among heterosexual teens.

The research, published in early 2019, comes on the heels of a 2018 review study that found LGBT teenagers overall are three times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. In combination, the research sheds light on the critical importance of ensuring that LGBT teens receive ongoing support and access to mental healthcare resources.

How Researchers Gathered LBGT Suicide Statistics

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, looked at national data on 10,311 suicides, using information from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). In addition, researchers narrowed the search to 12- to 29-year-olds who died by suicide. They pulled data from 2013, when the NVDRS began including information on sexual orientation and transgender status, through 2015, the latest year of data available.

As a result, researchers isolated 2,209 suicides to include in the study. Consequently, their analysis found that 24 percent of suicide deaths in young teens between the years 2013 and 2015 were among LBGT youth. Subsequently, this dropped to 8 percent of suicides among young adults 25 to 29 years old in the same time period. While lower, this number is still proportionally high in comparison to heterosexuals of the same age.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources: LGBT suicide statistics

Suicidal Ideation and Attempts Among LGBT Teenagers

The research showed that females and LGBT teens were more likely than their straight male peers to have had suicidal thoughts and unsuccessful suicide attempts before committing the act. In fact, transgender males were almost four times as likely as heterosexual males to have made prior suicide attempts.

Also, lesbians and bisexual females were more than twice as likely as their male peers to have made prior suicide attempts. And bisexual females were most likely to have a history of suicidal thoughts.

The study also noted that heterosexual and bisexual males most often used firearms for suicides, while females, gay, and transgender teens were less likely to do so.

A Broader Look at LGBT Suicide Statistics

The 2018 review, published in JAMA Pediatrics, compiled data from 35 previous studies. The analysis involved close to 2.4 million heterosexual youth and 113,468 LGBT youth, ages 12 to 20, from 10 countries.

The results included the following LGBT suicide statistics:

  • LGBT youth were 3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers Transgender teens were 5.87 times more likely
  • Gay and lesbian youth were 3.71 times more likely
  • Bisexual youth were 3.69 times more likely to attempt suicide than teens who identified as heterosexual.

Furthermore, the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 40 percent of high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or questioning (unsure of their orientation) have seriously considering suicide.

Why Are LGBT Teens Vulnerable to Suicide?

Studies are only recently gathering data on queer/questioning and transgender youth. However, a large body of research has looked at the impact of stigma and family relationships on lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. And their findings apply in large part to transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, and asexual youth. The full acronym for these minorities is LGBTQ-IA.

All teenagers are at risk for suicide. But for LBGTQ-IA youth, the risks are compounded. They experience rejection or lack of support from their family members more often than their heterosexual peers. A full 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT teens who have been kicked out of the house, or who left home due to negative relationships with family.

In addition, the feelings of isolation or “otherness” that often accompany adolescence may be magnified for these teens. Moreover, stigma and threats of violence from peers and society at large further impact their mental health and well-being.

For the younger teens in the new study on LGBT suicide statistics, the challenges of coming out to family and friends were too much to handle. Researchers found that family problems most often contributed to suicides among younger people and gay men.

“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

What LGBT Youth Face in Schools

In addition to difficulty at home, LGBT youth in schools often face bullying, threats of injury, and sexual violence. The following data on LGB teenagers comes from the YRBS:

  • 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, LGB 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 LGBT 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-IA youth.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources: LGBT suicide statistics

Mental Health Statistics for LGBT Teens

LGBT suicide statistics and LGBT mental health statistics reflect the societal and relationship challenges that these young people face. 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. A 2018 study found that low family satisfaction, cyberbullying victimization, and unmet medical needs contributed to their higher rates of depression.

Moreover, fear about coming out and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can also lead to teen anxiety disorders, PTSD, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse. According to NAMI, up to 65 percent of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.

About one-third of the youth in the LGBT suicide statistics study had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Plus, many of those were being treated with psychiatric medications when they died. Moreover, bisexual females included in the study were 24 times more likely to have a diagnosed mental illness at the time of their death by suicide.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources: LGBT suicide statistics

The Effect of the Political Climate on LGBT Teens

Immediately after and ever since the 2016 elections, LGBTQ individuals have experienced an increase in stress levels. Experts attribute this in part to a parallel rise in hostile attitudes and incidents of hate crimes on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

A 2018 study in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies assessed 172 GLBTQ individuals’ perceptions of minority stress experiences before and after the election. The results revealed “higher levels of stress pertaining to sexual orientation rumination, daily experiences of harassment/discrimination, [and] more symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

The study went on to state:

“Since his inauguration, Donald J. Trump and his presidential administration have failed to show support or publicly acknowledge the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) individuals. Historically, conservative anti-GLBTQ campaigns and policies have caused long-lasting negative effects on GLBTQ individuals’ mental health, physical health, and sense of safety in their communities.”

What Parents Can Do to Counteract LGBT Suicide Statistics 

Cultural and societal attitudes toward LGBTQ-IA individuals are slowly shifting toward a more accepting stance. But there is still much work to be done before stigma is eliminated. Therefore, personal support systems for teens are vital.

Research has consistently shown that support from parents and peers leads to better mental health, greater self-acceptance, and enhanced well-being among LGBT youth. 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 LGBT 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.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Organizations like the Trevor Group offer resources and support, in person and online, for LGBTQ-IA 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—and therefore LGBT suicide statistics will start to trend downward.

Finally, parents of LGBT 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:

Pediatrics. 2018 May;141(5).

J Adolesc Health. 2019 Jan 30.  

JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(12):1145–1152.

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

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

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