New study on suicide and coming out milestones among three generations of LGBQ people

LGBT Youth

Over 60 percent of suicide attempts among LGBQ people happen within five years of realizing they are LGBQ

A new study titled, Suicidal Behavior and Coming Out Milestones in Three Cohorts of Sexual Minority Adults, has recently been conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The report finds that 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 examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25), middle (34-41) and older (52-59)—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.

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.

“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.

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, and half (14 percent) of these attempts happened after age 41 in the older group.

The report additionally finds higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts for individuals identifying with a sexual minority. Bisexual respondents were about 1.5 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts, 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.

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. No differences in suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts were found based on race and ethnicity.

About the generations study:

Research reported in this report is part of the Generations study, supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. The Generations Study examines the health and well-being of cisgender and nonbinary LGBQ people. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were included in the institute’s TransPop Study, which examines the demographics, health, and lived experiences of the first national probability sample of transgender individuals in the U.S.

The Generations investigators are Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., (PI, UCLA); David M. Frost, Ph.D., (University College London); Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., (UCSC); Marguerita Lightfoot, Ph.D., (UCSF); Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin) and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., (UCLA) Co-Investigators are listed alphabetically. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.