There are many contributing factors to consider after lesbian, gay, and bi youth attempt suicide. Two recent studies bring these factors to light by showing how LGB youth are targeted for rejection and its contribution to depression that can lead to suicidal thinking.
One of these studies, examined the experiences of a group of LGB youth around Memphis. The research found that about 37.7 percent of those youth reported having attempted suicide. Almost everyone reported experiencing some kind of mistreatment from their parents or guardians, including insults, criticism, being made to feel guilty, ridicule or humiliation. In fact, LGB youth who experienced maltreatment from their caregivers were 9.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide — but that wasn’t actually the most significant predictor.
According to their results, losing a friend when coming out as LGB seemed to have the biggest impact on whether someone had attempted suicide. Youth who lost friends after coming out as LGB were 29 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. In a statement, Ervin pointed out that this demonstrates the importance of making sure that LGB youth have others they can connect with as they come to terms with their identities.
“When youth do face rejection from peers,” she said, “creating an alternative space, such as a student group, where they can find the understanding and connection they lack in other areas of their lives can be helpful.”
Then on August 12th, the Centers for Disease Control released results from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS), a bi-annual poll designed to monitor high school student health. For the first time ever, states and schools were given the option to include questions about respondents' sexuality. 25 states and 19 large urban school districts chose complete the survey, making it the first nationally-representative census of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth health in America.
Sadly, based on 15,600 responses the Results, were grim. In almost every facet of their personal health, LGB students fare worse than their peers.
34 percent of LGB teens reported having been bullied at school, nearly twice the rate that heterosexual students were bullied (19 percent).
(28 percent) of LGB students reported being cyberbullied, double the rate of heterosexual students (14 percent).
(10 percent) of LGB students had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, double the rate of heterosexual students (5 percent).
LGB students were more likely to have been involved in a physical fight (28 percent) than heterosexual students (21 percent), but twice as likely to have been injured in such a fight (5 percent) than their heterosexual peers (2.5 percent).
LGB youth were three times as likely to have experienced sexual assault (17.8 percent) compared to their heterosexual peers (5.4 percent).
(23 percent) reported experiencing sexual dating violence, as opposed to (9 percent) of heterosexual students.
(18 percent) reported experiencing physical dating violence, compared to (8 percent) of heterosexual students.
LGB students were more likely to have ever tried smoking cigarettes (50 percent vs. 30 percent) and more likely to be a current cigarette smoker (19.2 percent vs. 9.8 percent). They similarly had higher rates of alcohol and illegal drug use.
LGB students were nearly three times as likely (12.5 percent) to skip school because of safety concerns than their heterosexual peers (4.6 percent). This result suggests that, because the survey was taken at school, the rest of these numbers might be even higher and LGB students simply weren’t there to take it.
LGB students were more than twice as likely (60.4 percent) to have experienced feelings of depression or hopelessness compared to their heterosexual peers (26.4 percent).
Perhaps most shocking was the data pertaining to suicide:
LGB students were nearly three times as likely (42.8 percent) to have seriously considered attempting suicide compared to their heterosexual peers (14.8 percent). They were likewise significantly more likely to have made a suicide plan (38.2 percent vs. 11.9 percent) and to have actually attempted suicide in the past year (29.4 percent vs. 6.4 percent).
Another sad fact is that the CDC study still does not invite transgender and gender nonconforming students to identify themselves, so it provides no information on their experiences.
Being a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender teen can be an incredibly isolating experience. Previous studies have shown that the presence of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) can help mitigate depression and even improve students’ success when they head off to college. While researching I stumbled upon this great organization in California named Camp Brave Trails.
From their site:
Our program focuses on four key elements: Leadership, Community Building, Self Realization, and Service. We use workshops, adventure and artistic programming, service projects, peer connections, and positive role models to create a safe space where youth can thrive. With the skills learned at camp, our campers will be primed to thrive in their schools, workplace, and personal life. In addition, our campers will have the knowledge and confidence to be more impactful leaders and implement innovative social change in their communities.
One parent writes:
“Words cannot express what you’ve given Palie. You took a young adult and made him more himself. He felt like he belonged, like he’d found his tribe, like he was ‘normal’ for the first time. I sent you a fragile soul, and you sent me back a warrior.”