An important study titled "Mental Health and Suicidality Among Racially/Ethnically Diverse Sexual Minority Youths," published in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, shows that LGBT youth are much more likely than straight youth to attempt suicide.
With so many stories of LGBT teens committing suicide, this finding comes as no surprise. Jacob Rogers, Jamie Hubley, Tyler Clemente, and Eric James Borges all made headlines in recent years for taking their own lives, and actor Wentworth Miller spoke openly about how he attempted suicide before he came out last summer.
The authors of the Williams Institute's study are some of the nation's leading researchers on sexual orientation and gender identity in fields spanning from public health to law. Over 73,000 teens from all around the country, ages 13 to 18, completed a pencil-and-paper survey asking questions related to their suicidal thoughts and behaviors, including self-harm, feeling sad, and suicide attempts. Out of all of the students represented in the study, 6245 self-identified as LGBT.
One of the study's big findings was that 22.8% of the LGBT youth attempted suicide in the year prior to being surveyed, as compared to only 6.6% of their straight counterparts. On top of this, over 8% of the LGBT youth's suicide attempts were serious (resulting in visits to the hospital), compared to 2% for heterosexual youth.
This study also looked at LGBT youth in an important and innovative way: the researchers considered the significance of intersectionality, or having multiple minority identities that operate together. As opposed to following suit with past studies that have lumped LGBT youth of color into one category, this study analyzed the unique intersections of race, sex, and LGBT identity.
The study found that compared with white LGBT youth, Latino and Native American/Pacific Islander LGBT youth had greater odds of attempting suicide. In particular, Latina LGBT girls had a significantly higher prevalence of suicide attempts in the year prior to being surveyed than any other racial category. On a similar note, Latino LGBT boys reported twice the amount of feeling sad in the last year than boys of other racial categories. On the flip side, black and Asian American LGBT youth fared better on a number of outcomes.
Wendy B. Bostwick, the study's first author, said:
“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.”
Moving forward, it will be important for researchers to continue to take into account the unique cultural contexts and backgrounds of LGBT youth to see which factors in the home, school, or cultural environment are protecting certain groups such as black and Asian American youth, and leaving Latino youth at greater risk.