American youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning (LGBQ) are much more likely to consider, plan or attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
According to a nationally representative sample of 15,624 high-school age participants, 40 percent of sexual-minority adolescents seriously considered suicide compared to 15 percent of their heterosexual counterparts.
Shockingly, nearly a quarter attempted suicide compared to approximately 6 percent of those in the sexual majority.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, San Diego, and San Diego State University, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“The most staggering finding, the one that really makes you think, is just how prevalent these suicide-risk behaviours are in the LGBQ adolescent community,” said one of the study’s authors, Theodore L. Caputi. “Research has shown that suicide-risk behaviours are an indicator of extreme distress.”
The team noticed several important trends: Though female sexual-minority adolescents, on the whole, show a higher absolute prevalence for suicide-risk behaviors, when the researchers incorporated in statistics from heterosexual counterparts, sexual-minority males were at greater relative risk.
For behaviours such as trying to take their own lives, LGBQ males were almost five times as likely to report having done so than heterosexual males in the same age group.
Another trend stuck out, one related to adolescents who identify as bisexual. Nearly one-third of this group reported attempting suicide in the past 12 months, and 46 percent had considered it. Previous research has revealed that bisexual adolescents in particular experience great distress because some people are dismissive of this sexual orientation.
“There are clearly differences in how sexual-minority adolescents experience the world,” Caputi said. “External stressors like stigma and isolation are significant contributing factors, and those weigh on members of these high-risk communities.”
Though the researchers acknowledge some limitations with the study, for example, a lack of data about transgender people and just a 60-percent response rate to the survey, they hope their results call attention to the severity of this problem and prompt action on the part of policymakers, community members, educators and clinicians.
“If people are thinking about suicide and their attempts are not successful, that does not mean we’ve won,” Caputi said. “The goal is to decrease the stressors that cause LGBQ adolescents to contemplate suicide in the first place. We’re hoping our study will inspire social and policy changes that lead to happier and healthier lives for LGBQ adolescents.”