LGBQ adolescents are far more likely to plan or attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, according to 2015 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A national sample of almost 16,000 high school students aged 14 to 18 show that a shocking 40 percent of those who identify as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning said they seriously considered suicide within the past year (“LGBQ Teens Face Serious Suicide Risk, Research Finds,” CNN, December 19).
The 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey documented sexual minorities who had planned to complete suicide at 34.9 percent and those who had attempted suicide the previous year at 24.9 percent. In contrast, 11.9 percent of heterosexual teens admitted to planning suicide, 6.3 percent said they had attempted suicide and 14.8 percent had seriously considered suicide as an option.
The study is a step in the right direction and is one of the first to show how LGBQ teens’ experience with suicide differs from other youth populations. John W. Ayers, computational epidemiologist and adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University, said, “We want this to be a wake-up call and a call to action, so that this will become a part of the national agenda to address this very real public health crisis.” He hopes that this research will spur lawmakers into action.
Why are LGBQ youths at higher risk of suicide? Many are subject to harmful, negative environments where they don’t receive the support that’s fundamental to their mental well-being. The sense of security and safety has never been there, leaving these teens without adequate coping skills. That reason alone coupled with lack of adequate physical or mental health care makes it difficult for many sexual minorities to maintain good mental and physical health.
Suicide rates are increasing for these adolescents, but there is hope. Supportive, assistive programs like gay-straight alliances and positive policies denouncing homophobia pave the way for change. Organizations with missions to end hatred and bullying like the Tyler Clementi Foundation and groups like the Trevor Project, which offers 24/7 crisis support lines for LGBTQ people in need of support, lend a helping hand in reducing rates of suicide.
Beyond the organizations working to help these at-risk groups, each individual can do something to support a person in their life who may be struggling. Mental Health First Aid promotes awareness and teaches ways to help those in crisis and non-crisis situations. To learn more about how to help someone facing a mental health or substance use challenge, find a Mental Health First Aid course near you, and check out these guidelines on providing Mental Health First Aid to an LGBTQ person.