Most suicide attempts among LGBQ people occur after realizing one’s sexual identity

Scene from
Scene from "TuMe Manques," a drama about a man who discovers his son’s homosexuality after his suicide

First nationally representative study examines suicide and coming out milestones among three generations of LGBQ people

A recent study finds most suicide attempts (61 percent) among LGBQ people occurred within five years of realizing one’s sexual minority identity. However, a significant proportion of attempts (39 percent) happened outside this age range.

Researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25 years-old), middle (34-41 years-old) and older (52-59 years-old)—to assess the concurrence of suicide thoughts, plans and attempts with coming out milestones, such as first sexual attraction to someone of the same sex and realization of LGBQ identity.

“Public health and LGBTQ providers often focus on youth at risk, but it is vital that policies and suicide prevention interventions focus on the unique vulnerabilities of LGBQ people of all ages,” said lead author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “The coming out process may present unique challenges to the mental health of young people, while isolation, lack of connection to the LGBTQ community, and concerns about caregiving may negatively impact older adults.”

The mean age of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts seemed to track closely with the age of first realization of LGBQ identity, which is 14, 16 and 18 for young, middle and older LGBQ people. On average, the first suicidal thoughts were reported at ages 14, 18 and 23 years in the young, middle and older cohorts.

Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by 31 percent of young LGBQ people, compared to 24 percent of the middle cohort, and 20 percent of the oldest group. In the middle and older cohorts, 24 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of first suicide attempts occurred at age 26 or older. Half (14 percent) of these attempts happened after age 41 in the older group.

There were a number of key additional findings in this report linking specific identities with suicidality.  For example, bisexual respondents were about 1.5 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts, compared to gay and lesbian respondents, and respondents with sexual minority identities such as queer and pansexual were more than twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to gay and lesbian respondents.

Through this study, no differences in suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts were found based on race and ethnicity. Additionally, there were no differences in suicidal behavior between men and women, but in the younger cohort, three times as many nonbinary people reported suicidal thoughts as those who identified as men and women.

The full report is here.