LGBTQ youth are at greater risk of suicide than non-LGBTQ youth, and new research explains exactly why that is. According to the new report, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth who experience sexual trauma are at even higher risk of suicide than those who don’t have such experiences. Sexual abuse is sadly common among LGBTQ youth, said lead study author Diana Sanchez in a statement.
Recently, during a difficult time in the United States where the rights and safety of LGBTQIA+ youth are threatened, nonprofit The Trevor Project released a new research brief about the role trauma plays in suicide risk for this group of young people. Past research had showed that trauma-related events occur more frequently in the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth. This new data clearly proves the effects all this trauma can have on the mental health of these youths. It demonstrates how this kind of targeted scrutiny particularly affects LGBTQIA+ people with more vulnerability in the greater community – namely people of color, transgender, and nonbinary youths, and multisex individuals.
Expert opinion maintains that this research ought to be considered a wake-up call to society for us to offer better support and safeguards for these youths, especially since they’re going to live in a world that seems unfamiliar and sometimes unsupportive.
Why are trauma and mental health important?
Mental health can be negatively affected by abuse, whether physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual.
As a result of trauma, it is not uncommon for you to have poor self-esteem and make self-destructive decisions. Those who have been subjected to abuse or other traumatic event are more likely to develop a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma and abuse never indicate that it is your fault. You can find help to mend the wounds of physical, mental, and emotional trauma.
When you experience an event or events that physically or emotionally hurt you, you can experience trauma. As trauma affects the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of a person, people who experience abuse or other trauma can be at risk of developing mental health conditions, such as:
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Misusing alcohol or drugs
Borderline personality disorder
Depending on the type of abuse, it may have occurred in childhood or as an adult. It may have been emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual. Trauma includes situations, events, or people that are dangerous, frightening, or extremely stressful, for example, sexual assault, war, an accident or natural disaster, the death of a close family member or a serious illness.
Abuse or trauma can have the following long-term effects:
Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
Abuse of alcohol or drugs
High level of stress and trauma in LGBTQ
In order to calculate the results, The Trevor Project used data from its 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. The survey solicited responses from 33,993 LGBTQ youth across the country. The group’s ages ranged from 13 to 24.
The report details that 37% of the youths reported experiencing high levels of trauma symptoms.
Among LGBTQ youth, the average level of trauma symptoms was relatively high. Only 4% of them said they had never experienced trauma symptoms during their lives.
Moreover, 60% reported experiencing “low to moderate” levels of trauma symptoms.
The survey found that BIPOC (Black and indigenous people of color), multisex, and trans and nonbinary youth experienced higher levels of trauma than others. According to the findings, 37% of BIPOC LGBTQ young people experience high trauma symptoms compared with 36% of their white peers.
Among youth who belong to non-white populations, young Americans with Native American heritage were the highest at 52%. This was followed by those from the Middle East and Northern Africa, at 44%.
The gay youth demographic was 29%, lesbians were at 38%, bisexuals were at 33%, queer people were at 42%, pansexuals were at 43%, and 38% of the asexual youth reported high levels of trauma symptoms. There were people who said they were unsure about their sexual orientation.
As a result of their gender identity, 44% of transgender and nonbinary youths reported high trauma symptoms in comparison to their cisgender LGBQ peers, who reported 25%.
The data indicated consistent figures through the different age groups. The youth — those between the ages of 13 and 17 — were at 36%, with a number at 37% for those aged 18 to 24.
Researchers found that LGBTQ youth, who experienced high levels of trauma symptoms, were three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers with either no trauma symptoms or moderate-to-low trauma symptoms. In the past year, one in four youth with high self-reported trauma symptoms reported a suicide attempt, while only 3% of those with no trauma symptoms reported a suicide attempt. Of those people with mild to moderate traumatic stress symptoms, about 9% attempted suicide in the same period.
In all demographic groups – regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity – trauma symptoms were closely associated with past-year suicide attempts.
“The association that we observed between trauma and suicide risk was expected,” said Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at The Trevor Project, when asked about what surprised them most about the survey results. “However, seeing the result that LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of trauma symptoms had over three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the past year was staggering.”
After being asked why high levels of trauma symptoms occur among this specific community of American youths, Price told Healthline that many LGBTQ people might experience trauma because of discrimination and victimization which is connected to their sexual orientation and gender identities.
It could be physical harm based on your sexual orientation or “being denied access to a particular space because of one’s gender identity.” These are simply experiences that an adolescent who is straight, cisgender will not have to go through, according to Price.
Dr. Kyle T. Ganson, an assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, was not associated with this research, said to Healthline that these young people face many social stressors tied directly to their sexual and/or gender identity