Over the past 20 years, a growing body of research has focused on suicidality among transgender individuals, including prevalence estimates and risk factors associated with suicide thoughts and attempts. Studies of the transgender population demonstrate that the prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts among transgender adults is significantly higher than that of the U.S. general population. For example, transgender adults have a prevalence of past-year suicide ideation that is nearly twelve times higher, and a prevalence of past-year suicide attempts that is about eighteen times higher, than the U.S. general population. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), which is the largest survey of transgender people in the U.S. to date, found that 81.7 percent of respondents reported ever seriously thinking about suicide in their lifetimes, while 48.3 percent had done so in the past year. In regard to suicide attempts, 40.4 percent reported attempting suicide at some point in their lifetimes, and 7.3 percent reported attempting suicide in the past year.
Although the research literature to date agrees that transgender people are at an elevated risk of suicide thoughts and attempts, there is still much to learn about why transgender people are particularly at risk. In this report, we utilize data from the 2015 USTS to examine the key risk factors associated with lifetime and past-year suicide thoughts and attempts among a large and diverse sample of transgender people.
Demographic trends related to suicide thoughts and attempts among USTS respondents reflected trends found in prior research of suicidality in the U.S. general population and among transgender people.
- Among USTS respondents, suicide thoughts and attempts were more likely to be reported among those of younger ages, Alaskan Native/American Indian or Biracial/Multiracial respondents, transgender men, pansexual respondents, and non-binary respondents assigned female at birth.
- Similar to trends in the U.S. population, we found a higher prevalence across all suicide-related measures among respondents who had lower educational attainment, were unemployed, or had lower annual household income. In terms of relationship status, respondents who were partnered and living together with their partners had the lowest prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts.
General Risk Factors
Transgender people have many of the same risk factors for suicidality as found in the U.S. general population, such as depression, substance use, and housing instability. Similar to these trends in the U.S. general population, we found an elevated prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts among USTS respondents who:
- Experienced serious psychological distress and reported heavy alcohol or illicit drug use (excluding marijuana);
- Reported poor general health compared to those who reported excellent health (19.9% versus 3.6% past-year suicide attempts);
- Reported having a disability, experienced homelessness in the past year, or had ever been arrested for any reason.
Unique Risk Factors
In addition to general risk factors, transgender people have additional risk factors, such as experiences of discrimination, stigma, family rejection, and lack of access to gender-affirming health care. Findings regarding these unique factors include the following:
- Experiencing discrimination or mistreatment in education, employment, housing, health care, in places of public accommodations, or from law enforcement is associated with a higher prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts. For example, the prevalence of past-year suicide attempts by those who reported that they had been denied equal treatment in the past year because they are transgender was more than double that of those who had not experienced such treatment (13.4% compared to 6.3%).
- Those who reported that their spouses, partners, or children rejected them because they are transgender reported a higher prevalence of lifetime and past-year suicide attempts. Those
who reported rejection by their family of origin, for example, reported twice the prevalence of past-year suicide attempts compared to those who had not experienced such rejection (10.5%compared to 5.1%).
- Respondents who had been rejected by their religious communities or had undergone conversion therapy were more likely to report suicide thoughts and attempts. For instance, 13.1 percent of those who had experienced religious rejection in the past year had attempted suicide in the past year; by contrast, 6.3 percent of respondents who had experienced religious acceptance in the past year attempted suicide in the past year.
- Experiences of violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV) are associated with higher prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts. Over 30 percent of those who were physically attacked in a place of public accommodation reported attempting suicide in the past year, which is over four times the prevalence among respondents who were not similarly attacked.
- Those who had “de-transitioned” at some point, meaning having gone back to living according to their sex assigned at birth, were significantly more likely to report suicide thoughts and attempts, both past-year and lifetime, than those who had never “de-transitioned.” Nearly 12 percent of those who “de-transitioned” attempted suicide in the past year compared to 6.7 percent of those who have not “de-transitioned.”
- People who are not viewed by others as transgender and those who do not disclose to others that they are transgender reported a lower prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts. For instance, 6.3 percent of those who reported that others can never tell they are transgender attempted suicide in the past year compared to 12.2 percent of those who reported that others can always tell they are transgender.
- The cumulative effect of minority stress is associated with a higher prevalence of suicidality. For instance, 97.7 percent of those who had experienced four discriminatory or violence experiences in the past year (being fired or forced to resign from a job, eviction, experiencing homelessness, and physical attack) reported seriously thinking about suicide in the past year and 51.2 percent made a suicide attempt in the past year.
We also found that there are some factors that are associated with lower risk of suicide thoughts and attempts for USTS respondents:
- Respondents with supportive families reported lower prevalence of past-year and lifetime suicide thoughts and attempts.
- Those who wanted, and subsequently received, hormone therapy and/or surgical care had a substantially lower prevalence of past-year suicide thoughts and attempts than those who wanted hormone therapy and surgical care and did not receive them.
- A lower proportion of respondents who lived in a state with a gender identity nondiscrimination statute reported past-year suicide thoughts and attempts than those who lived in states without such a statute.
Our findings underscore the urgency of research to identify promising intervention and prevention strategies to address suicidality in this population. USTS respondents have the elevated risk of suicide thoughts and attempts that one would expect based on general risk factors that affect the U.S. population, such as substance use and serious psychological distress. Yet, it’s clear that minority stress experiences, such as family rejection, discrimination experiences, and lack of access to gender-affirming health care, create added risks for transgender people. Furthermore, the cumulative effect of experiencing multiple minority stressors is associated with dramatically higher prevalence of suicidality. Future research that supports the design and evaluation of suicide intervention and prevention strategies for the transgender population is urgently needed.