Over the past decade in the United States, there have been significant increases in deaths caused by suicide -- particularly among teens and young adults, according to a report released by The Trevor Project last week. The report revealed new findings from the suicide prevention organization's own research as well as recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once again, the most startling findings showed that LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
Though previous research had already shown considerably higher rates of suicidality among queer and trans young people, the latest data from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS) revealed that LGB youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to straight peers. This is a significant jump from the often-cited statistic stating that suicide attempts are three times as likely among queer youth. The report also stated other CDC research showed similar numbers in regards to transgender young people.
In addition, The Trevor Project's 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that a staggering 39 percent of LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 reported seriously considering suicide in the previous 12 months. Also revealed was that a greater proportion of bisexual people in this age group met criteria for a major depressive episode (32.7 percent) compared to gay and lesbian young adults (26.8 percent). But, according to experts, these statistics come as a result of a worsening culture of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and sentiment from political and religious leaders.
"Here's what we know: young LGBTQ people are not prone to suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," Dr. Amy Green, The Trevor Project's director of research, tells Out. "They are at a higher risk of suicidality because of increased experiences of internalized stigma, discrimination, and rejection from others. No one factor causes an individual to attempt suicide, but the cumulative effect of these stressors can be detrimental to one's mental wellness and increase the risk for suicidal ideation. According to The Trevor Project's 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 76 percent of LGBTQ youth felt that the recent political climate impacted their mental health or sense of self."
Theresa Nguyen, chief program officer at Mental Health America (MHA), echoes Dr. Green, saying, "Isolation and discrimination will absolutely make it worse for LBGTQ youth."
Nguyen says their own research supports the findings in The Trevor Project's reports, adding that the majority of LGBTQ+ folks screened by MHA "have high levels of stress and fear that increase their mental health problems.... LGBTQ screeners are more likely to screen for severe depression and nearly 50 percent report thoughts of suicide or self-harm."
Those levels of stress could be impacted by public policy issues like LGBTQ+ youth homelesseness.
"We know that issues like homelessness and substance use impact rates of suicidality," says Green. "According to data from our national survey, LGBTQ youth who experienced housing instability reported considering suicide at twice the rate and attempted suicide at more than three times the rate of LGBTQ youth who had not." These statistics become more dire, when examining intersections surrounding race.
Green adds that Trevor Project's research found the proportion of LGBTQ youth reporting a suicide attempt in the past year was higher among youth of color, which "can be attributed to several factors, including the impact of trauma and oppression as well as the associated higher rates of poverty, alcohol use, and limited access to culturally appropriate mental health care."
Though such statistics can make the problem feel overwhelming, both Green and Nguyen stress the enormous difference that just one person can make, adding that non-LGBTQ+ people need to step up and be real allies in order to combat this tragic epidemic.
"Talk about your support often and openly," Nguyen says of how to be a better ally. "The more people hear about your support, the more they will feel less fearful. Speaking openly also models for others how we can show support. If you think a person is going through trouble, ask questions, like 'How are you doing?' and just listen."
"The best thing for allies to do is to help foster the creation of safe and accepting environments where LGBTQ young people can feel loved, respected, and affirmed," adds Green. "We know that acceptance from adults saves lives. Just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. That's why the Trevor Project is here 24/7 to support LGBTQ young people in crisis and let them know that they are not alone."
The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, Trevor Project's trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.