High suicide risk among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual adults: American Study

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California — Gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults are overall more likely to report suicide-related thoughts, plans, and attempts compared to heterosexual adults, according to a study led by American researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The study states that, “Suicide risk among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults varies considerably depending on the intersection between sexual identity and other aspects of identity, such as gender, age, and race/ethnicity”.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the findings that, “the intersection of multiple social identities may compound suicide risk for some lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals”.

The chief author of the study, Dr. Rajeev Ramchand, who is Ph.D., and Senior Advisor on Epidemiology and Suicide Prevention at NIMH, said, “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”.

Researchers hypothesizes that suicide risk may vary considerably according to a person’s sexual identity, gender, age, race and ethnicity. In order to test the hypothesis, they analyzed the data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)—a nationally representative survey of civilian adults in the U.S.

The researchers examined data from 2015, when the survey first introduced questions about sexual identity, through 2019. The final data set included a total of 191,954 participants, 14,693 of whom identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

The participants mentioned their sexual identity (heterosexual, lesbian or gay, bisexual, or don’t know), and whether they had had suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, or suicide attempts at any time in the past 12 months.

The researchers examined these outcomes in relation to certain individual characteristics such as age (18-24, 25-34, 35-64), race/ethnicity (white, Black, Hispanic, other race/multiracial), and gender (man, woman). They also added certain sociodemographic characteristics such as level of education and employment status.

In line with previous research, the NSDUH data showed that rates of all three suicide-related behaviors — thoughts, plans, attempts — were generally higher among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults than among heterosexual adults.

After taking demographic factors into account, the researchers found that suicide risk was three to six times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults than for heterosexual adults across every age group and race/ethnicity category. While 12% to 17% of gay and bisexual men had thought about taking their lives in the past year, 5% had made a suicide plan, and about 2% had made a suicide attempt.

On the other hand, 11% to 20% lesbian or gay women and bisexual women had thoughts of suicide, 7% had made a suicide plan, and about 3% had made a suicide attempt.

Ramchand said that, “This study sets the stage for future work investigating the impact of social inequalities on suicide risk among people with multiple social identities”.

NIH is America’s medical research agency that includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

Featured Image credits: Northwestern Medicine Website.