Adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are more likely to report suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts than those who identify as heterosexual, regardless of their age, gender, and race/ethnicity, suggests a report published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“This study demonstrates the importance of asking about sexual identity in national data-collection efforts, and it highlights the pressing need for suicide prevention services that address the specific experiences and needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults of different genders, ages, and race and ethnic groups,” lead author Rajeev Ramchand, Ph.D., senior advisor on epidemiology and suicide prevention at the National Institute of Mental Health, said in a media release.
The report was based on analysis of data collected as part of the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of adults in the United States. As part of this survey, participants were asked about their sexual identity (responses included heterosexual, lesbian or gay, bisexual, and don’t know) and if they had experienced suicidal thoughts over the past 12 months; those who answered yes were asked about suicidal plans and attempts. The participants also reported their age, race, and ethnicity. The researchers then grouped the participants into four race/ethnicity categories: non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic other race/multiracial.
The researchers focused their analysis on data from 2015 (when the survey first introduced questions about sexual identity) through 2019. The total sample size was 191,954 adults, of whom 14,693 identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Among gay and bisexual men, 12% and 17%, respectively, had thought about taking their lives in the past year; 5% had made a suicide plan; and about 2% had made a suicide attempt. Among lesbian or gay women and bisexual women, 11% and 20%, respectively, had thoughts of suicide; 7% had made a suicide plan; and about 3% had made a suicide attempt.
“When adjusting for demographics, [lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults] had 3- to 6-times greater risk than heterosexual adults across every age group and race/ethnicity category examined,” Ramchand and colleagues wrote.
The researchers compared past-year thoughts of suicide between those who identified as bisexual and lesbian/gay. They found that there were no differences in past-year thoughts of suicide between gay and bisexual men for any race/ethnicity or age group; however, among both White and Black women, bisexual women had significantly elevated odds of suicidal thoughts compared with lesbian/gay women.
“Examining disparities across groups is critical for stemming the threat that self-harm poses to the country’s health and well-being,” Ramchand and colleagues wrote. “This study provides foundational data that can inform future work examining how social inequalities (e.g., sexism, racism, heterosexism) influence suicide thoughts, plans, and attempts among individuals with multiple social identities.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Predicting the Transition From Suicidal Ideation to Suicide Attempt Among Sexual and Gender Minority Youths.”
Help Push the 988 Crisis Hotline Over the Finish Line
A dedicated phone number for individuals in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts—988—goes into effect July 16, 2022, but many states are not prepared for its implementation, putting people’s lives at stake. Join APA and other coalition organizations for “REIMAGINE: A Week of Action to Reimagine Our National Response to People in Crisis” during the week of November 15 to learn about what needs to be done to ensure that the 988 crisis hotline is implemented across the nation. Free, virtual events will be held throughout the week; they will highlight personal stories and how to coordinate federal and state advocacy efforts to establish and fully fund a more effective crisis response. Register today and join in the effort to build a better, more equitable crisis system for all people in this country.