Research indicates that mental health problems and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are more common in people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ) than in the general population.
In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. Numerous studies have shown that transgender people who experience more stigma and discrimination are more likely to experience mental health problems or suicidality (Bariola 2015, Clements-Nolle 2006, Budge 2013, Nuttbrock 2010).
LGBTQ youth are an especially vulnerable population, often experiencing multiple situational risk factors during adolescence. Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
LGBQ young people are more than twice as likely to feel suicidal, and over four times as likely to attempt suicide, compared to heterosexual youth (Kann 2016); the rates may be especially high for bisexual teens (Marshal 2011).
In 2017, the Oregon Health Authority’s Healthy Teens Survey reported stark differences between LGBTQ students and their straight peers:
- Nearly half of lesbian, gay or bisexual 8th graders have contemplated suicide
- Close to a quarter of lesbian, gay or bisexual 8th graders have attempted suicide
- Almost a third of transgender 8th graders have attempted suicide
Basic issues like restroom access have a profound effect on transgender youth well-being. For instance, one study showed that transgender students denied access to gender-appropriate facilities on their college campuses were 45 percent more likely to try to take their own lives (Seelman 2016).
Strong family bonds, safe schools and support from caring adults can all protect LGBTQ youth from depression and suicidality (Committee on Adolescence 2013).
Suicide and Mental Health
Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.
Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness, not necessarily a mental health issue. Many people living with mental health issues aren’t suicidal, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health issue.
Factors contributing to suicide risk are extremely complex and can include mental illness as well as a host of other factors including substance misuse or financial instability. New data from the CDC indicates that more than half of people who died by suicide in 2016 had no known mental health disorder at the time of death, however, it also states, “it is possible that mental health conditions or other circumstances could have been present and not diagnosed, known, or reported.”
Of the total suicide deaths in 2016, 10.3% of individuals had a diagnosed serious mental illness, according to a 27-state sample analysis conducted by the CDC. Extrapolated to the entire United States, this indicates that approximately 4,649 individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder died by suicide in 2016.