LGBT youth are at a higher risk of suicide and life-threatening behavior than their heterosexual peers, a new study has found, with transgender teens being the most at risk.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 2.5 million adolescents published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that “sexual minority youths” — those identifying as “homosexual,” “bisexual,” “transgender” — “have a significantly higher risk of life-threatening behavior compared with their heterosexual peers.”
To examine the risk of attempted suicide among sexual minority adolescents, differentiating for each sexual minority group, researchers searched electronic databases for articles published through April 30, 2017, with the following search terms: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, adolescents, teens, and attempted suicide.
In total, thirty-five studies reported in 22 articles that involved 2,378,987 heterosexual and 113,468 sexual minority adolescents (age range, 12-20 years) were included in the analysis.
Researchers found that overall, transgender youths were the most at risk of committing suicide, followed by bisexual and homosexual teens.
As suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents, according to the Center for Disease Control, researchers emphasized that “public awareness is important, and a careful evaluation of supportive strategies (eg, support programs, counseling, and destigmatizing efforts) should be part of education and public health planning.”
Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, told The Christian Post that the study "confirms what no one disputes: Namely, that youth who identify as LGBQT have higher rates of mental illness leading to a greater risk of life-threatening behaviors."
But contrary what to these authors conclude, Cretella said, there is "no evidence that 'destigmatizing efforts' will solve the problem, because there is no evidence that the higher rates are due primarily to stigmatization."
She pointed out that Sweden is among the most LGBT affirming nations in the world, yet, LGBT mental illness and suicide rates in Sweden are just as dramatically elevated relative to the general population.
"This fact strongly suggests that it is at least as likely, if not more so, that the higher rates are primarily due to LGBQT behavior, or to common underlying psychosocial factors that trigger both LGBQT attractions and accompanying mental disorders," she continued.
The findings are not surprising, given previous reports showing that young people who identify as sexual minorities are more likely than their heterosexual peers to develop depression and anxiety, self-harm, and attempt suicide.
A recent study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal found that LGBT youth are four times more likely to experience symptoms of depression and report more self-harm than heterosexual youths throughout their school years and into early adulthood.
Gemma Lewis from University College London in the UK, who led the research, said it is “concerning” that despite changes in public perceptions and attitudes, “sexual-minority youth remain at increased risk of long-term mental health problems.”
“Our findings underscore the importance of mental health problems before conscious self-identification and labeling of sexual-minority orientation," said Lewis.
"It is imperative that we find new ways to reach these adolescents and that they are able to access high-quality support services from a young age," she said.
Additionally, a September study conducted by Russell B. Toomey, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona-Tucson, found that more than half of all teenagers who identify as female to male transgender have attempted suicide.
Commenting on Toomey’s findings, Heather Hutzi, chief psychologist at Children's Hospital of Orange County in California, told CNN that suicide rates are higher in every population that has "increased stigma attached to them — or a lack of understanding."
She explained that feeling marginalized, stigmatized, and isolated leads many young people to feel so hopeless that they start using drugs, which, when coupled with depression, increases the risk of suicide.
“They're very impulsive," she said of teens. "For adolescents, in particular, a large percentage — I think it's like 50 percent to 60 percent — make an attempt within 30 minutes of having the idea. Their brain isn't developed enough."