New Study: LGBT Youth More Likely than Heterosexual Youth to Attempt Suicide

For Immediate Distribution
July 21, 2014

Laura Rodriguez,, (310) 956-2425
Donald Gatlin,, (202) 587-2871

Rates of serious suicide attempts requiring medical attention much higher in sexual minority than heterosexual youth

LOS ANGELES— According to a new study authored by several contributing experts published in the American Journal of Public Health, sexual minority youth had higher prevalence than heterosexual youth of each of 6 outcomes studied, including self-harm, feeling sad, and suicide ideation, planning, and attempts.  The study, using a large sample pooled from probability samples across the U.S., adds to prior studies that have used both probability and nonprobability samples and have shown that sexual minorities are at higher risk for a variety of adverse health outcomes.  The study shows that 22.8 percent of sexual minority youth compared with 6.6 percent of heterosexual youth had attempted suicide in the year prior to being surveyed (referred to as 1-year prevalence).  The study is innovative because it also assesses the seriousness of the suicide attempt.  It shows that when considering only serious suicide attempts—defined as attempts that resulted in injury that required treatment by a medical professional—the 1-year prevalence was much higher (8.3%) for sexual minority youth compared with heterosexual youth (2%).

The study is also innovative in that the large number of sexual minority youth, made possible by pooling together smaller samples, allowed the investigators to assess race/ethnic differences among sexual minorities.  Notably, the odds of suicide ideation, planning, and attempt among sexual minority youth varied by race/ethnicity: compared with White sexual minority youth, Latino and American Native/Pacific Islander sexual minorities had higher prevalence of suicide attempts; Black and Asian sexual minority youth fared better than White sexual minority youth on a number of outcomes (e.g., suicide ideation and suicide plan).

“Even as social attitudes toward gay men and lesbians improve in the United States, these findings show that, as recently as 2007, sexual minority youth continue to face greater risk for suicide attempts than heterosexual youth,” said Ilan H. Meyer, Williams Senior Scholar for Public Policy and the study’s co-author.

“The results regarding diversity in outcomes among sexual minority youth point to the limitations of using categories such as ‘youth of color,’ which can obscure distinctions among racial/ethnic groups. The findings emphasize the need for greater attention in research and public health interventions to similarities and differences among diverse groups of sexual minority youth,” said Wendy B. Bostwick, the study’s first author and an Assistant Professor, Public Health and Health Education Programs, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Northern Illinois University.

The study pooled together probability samples of public school youths from the 2005 and 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Surveys (YRBSs). The project was supported, in part, by a grant to the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health, The Fenway Institute.

Click here for the full study.

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