Lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning (LGBQ) young people are at substantially higher risk of suicidal behavior than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study published in JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association.
As part of the most recent National Youth Risk Behavior Survey -- the largest national survey on adolescent health -- 15,624 high school students were asked whether in the past year they had seriously considered suicide, planned suicide, or attempted suicide. The survey also included questions about sexual identity.
The research team found that, in the past year, 40 percent of LGBQ youth seriously considered suicide, 35 percent planned suicide, and 25 percent attempted suicide, compared to 15 percent, 12 percent and 6 percent (respectively) of non-LGBQ youth.
Because LGBQ and non-LGBQ youth differ in more ways than just sexual identity, the research team used statistical models to adjust for differences in age, sex, race, academic grades, and English proficiency when further comparing suicide risks. Even after adjusting for these confounding factors LGBQ youth were still at substantially higher risk of suicide.
LBGQ youth were 2.45 times more likely to consider suicide, 3.59 times more likely to plan a suicide, and 3.37 times more likely to attempt suicide than similar non-LGBQ peers.
Looking deeper into the data, the researchers found that the relative suicide risks were further heightened among LGBQ males, especially bisexual boys. A whopping 39% of bisexual boys (versus 10% for non-LGBQ boys) had seriously considered suicide, translating into about 4.44 times the risk for similar non-LGBQ male youth.
"There have been some indications that LGBQ youth face increased suicide risks, yet many believed the jury was still out," said San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health associate research professor John W. Ayers and study coauthor. "Our study yields a clear verdict: LGBQ youth face staggeringly high suicide risks."
The team noted these new data highlight a critical need that must be addressed. Theodore L. Caputi, formerly a student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the study's first author, added, "Our results are a resounding call to action for leaders to begin addressing the LGBQ youth suicide crisis. National health, political, and social leaders must speak up and begin work on a rapid, national strategy to combat suicide."
It's critical that we take on every possible angle to meet the needs of LGBQ youth, said coauthor Davey Smith, a clinician researcher at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, who advocates for sexual minority patients. "Parents, teachers, caretakers, and advocates need to be vigilant," he said. "If youth show signs of suicidal risk, they should seek supportive help from professionals." (A list of helpful resources can be found at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.)
Smith added that researchers must also do more to address the potential causes of suicide, such as stigma.
"Our work has identified a serious problem, but fortunately decades of science and experience can be leveraged to address LGBQ youth's suicide risk," Ayers concluded. "Now is the time to act."