30% of young LGBQ people have attempted suicide in their lifetimes

A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds younger LGBQ adults experience greater psychological distress and suicidal behavior than older LGBQ people.

Researchers examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25), middle (34-41), and older (52-59)—to assess how stress, identity, and connectedness with the LGBT community differed among the three generations. Researchers expected that younger LGBQ people would fare better in terms of stress and mental health outcomes than their older peers, who came of age in a more hostile social and legal environment for LGBT people.

However, results showed that young LGBQ people experienced high or the highest levels of everyday discrimination, psychological distress, and internalized homophobia. For example, 30% of young LGBQ adults reported at least one suicide attempt in their lifetimes, compared to 24% of the middle cohort and 21% of the older cohort.

Young LGBQ people also reported the highest levels of connection to the LGBT community and were more likely to say their sexual identity is central to who they are, compared to their older peers.

“The findings remind us that LGBT equality remains elusive. The persistence of cultural ideologies, such as homophobia and heterosexism, continue to result in rejection and violence against sexual minorities in the United States,” said lead author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “It is vital that we recognize threats to the health and well-being of sexual minority people across all ages.”

Additional Findings

  • Approximately 10% of young LGBQ adults identified as gender nonbinary, compared to 3.5% of LGBQ adults in both the middle and older cohorts.
  • Young LGBQ adults were more likely to be people of color.
    • 26% of young LGBQ people are Latino, compared to 17% of the middle cohort and 11% of the oldest generation.
  • Each cohort reached sexual identity milestones—identifying as LGBQ, the first same-sex sexual experience, and coming out—earlier than the previous one.
    • On average, young LGBQ people identified as LGBQ at age 14, compared to age 16 for the middle cohort and age 18 for the oldest.
  • Younger LGBQ adults showed more extreme experiences of victimization in a shorter span of time than the middle and older cohorts.
    • More than one-third (37%) of young LGBQ adults experienced being hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted.
    • Almost half (46%) had someone threaten them with violence.
    • Nearly three out of four (72%) were verbally insulted or abused.
  • Young LGBQ adults had higher levels of psychological distress compared to the two older cohorts.
    • Young LGBQ people had a score of 10.2 on the Kessler scale, a frequently used clinical measure of distress, compared with 7.6 for the middle cohort and 5.4 for the oldest.

The Generations Study examines the health and well-being of cisgender and nonbinary LGBQ people. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were included in our TransPop Study, which examines the demographics, health, and lived experiences of the first national probability sample of transgender individuals in the U.S.

Read the open-access journal article

About the Study

The report, “Minority stress, distress, and suicide attempts in three cohorts of sexual minority adults: A U.S. probability sample,” appears in PLOS ONE and is co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., David M. Frost, Ph.D., and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D.

Research reported in this report is part of the Generations study, supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health, under award number R01HD078526. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The Generations investigators are Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., (PI, UCLA); David M. Frost, Ph.D., (University College London); Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., (UCSC); Marguerita Lightfoot, Ph.D., (UCSF); Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin) and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., (UCLA) Co-Investigators are listed alphabetically.

April 8, 2021

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