The U.S. Surgeon General has just released the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action, containing a section on the increased suicide risk facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations.
While older adults are widely acknowledged as being at increased risk of suicidal attempts and completions, the new report did not yet have data on older LGBT adults. The Aging and Health Report, published in 2011, does: it found that 36% of LGB adults age 50 and older and 71% of transgender adults age 50 and older have at some time had suicidal thoughts. Compare these rates to what the Surgeon General found: “A meta-analysis of 25 international population-based studies found the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts in gay and bisexual male adolescents and adults was four times that of comparable heterosexual males. Lifetime suicide attempt rates among lesbian and bisexual females were almost twice those of heterosexual females. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adolescents and adults were also found to be almost twice as likely as heterosexuals to report a suicide attempt in the past year. A later meta-analysis of adolescent studies concluded that LGB youth were three times more likely to report a lifetime suicide attempt than heterosexual youth, and four times as likely to make a medically serious attempt. Across studies, 12 to 19 percent of LGB adults report making a suicide attempt, compared with less than 5 percent of all U.S. adults; and at least 30 percent of LGB adolescents report attempts, compared with 8 to 10 percent of all adolescents. …41 percent of adult respondents to the 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey report[ed] lifetime suicide attempts.”
Importantly, the report addresses the charge that these higher suicide rates indicate there is something inherently wrong with being LGB and/or T: “Suicidal behaviors in LGBT populations appear to be related to ‘minority stress,’ which stems from the cultural and social prejudice attached to minority sexual orientation and gender identity. This stress includes individual experiences of prejudice or discrimination, such as family rejection, harassment, bullying, violence, and victimization. Increasingly recognized as an aspect of minority stress is ‘institutional discrimination’ resulting from laws and public policies that create inequities or omit LGBT people from benefits and protections afforded others. Individual and institutional discrimination have been found to be associated with social isolation, low self-esteem, negative sexual/gender identity, and depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. These negative outcomes, rather than minority sexual orientation or gender identity per se, appear to be the key risk factors for LGBT suicidal ideation and behavior.”
The report also makes recommendations for how to reduce LGBT suicide risks: “Factors that foster and promote resilience in LGBT people include family acceptance, connection to caring others and a sense of safety, positive sexual/gender identity, and the availability of quality, culturally appropriate mental health treatment. Strategies for preventing suicidal behaviors in LGBT populations include: reducing sexual orientation and gender-related prejudice and associated stressors; improving identification of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental disorders; increasing availability and access to LGBT-affirming treatments and mental health services; reducing bullying and other forms of victimization that contribute to vulnerability within families, schools, and workplaces; enhancing factors that promote resilience, including family acceptance and school safety; changing discriminatory laws and public policies; and reducing suicide contagion.”
The full report is available at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/national-strategy-suicide-prevention/full_report-rev.pdf; the LGBT section begins on page 121.