More than 60% of suicide attempts among LGBQ people happen within five years of realizing they are LGBQ

A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds most suicide attempts (61%) among LGBQ people occurred within five years of realizing one’s sexual minority identity. However, a significant proportion of attempts (39%) happened outside this age range.

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 the concurrence of suicide thoughts, plans, and attempts with coming out milestones, such as first sexual attraction to someone of the same sex and realization of LGBQ identity.

The mean age of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts seemed to track closely with age of first realization of LGBQ identity, which is 14, 16, and 18 for young, middle, and older LGBQ people. On average, the first suicidal thoughts were reported at ages 14, 18, and 23 years in the young, middle, and older cohorts.

Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by 31% of young LGBQ people, compared to 24% of the middle cohort, and 20% of the oldest group. In the middle and older cohorts, 24% and 29%, respectively, of first suicide attempts occurred at age 26 or older, and half (14%) of these attempts happened after age 41 in the older group.

“Public health and LGBTQ providers often focus on youth at risk, but it is vital that policies and suicide prevention interventions focus on the unique vulnerabilities of LGBQ people of all ages,” said lead author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “The coming out process may present unique challenges to the mental health of young people, while isolation, lack of connection to the LGBT community, and concerns about caregiving may negatively impact older adults.”

Additional Findings

  • Bisexual respondents were about 1.5 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts, compared to gay and lesbian respondents.
  • Respondents with sexual minority identities such as queer and pansexual were more than twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to gay and lesbian respondents.
  • No differences in suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts were found based on race and ethnicity.
  • There were no differences in suicidal behavior between men and women, but in the younger cohort, three times as many nonbinary people reported suicidal thoughts as those who identified as men and women.

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.

July 1, 2021

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