LGBT people over represented among suicide deaths and if so why?
Suicide prevention, intervention and research programs specifically targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) demographic have until this day not been afforded adequate attention. Dependable methods that can be used to determine completed suicide rates in this population is also lacking, as gender identity or sexual orientation is often left out of death records. Data available for LGBT’s are therefore not conclusive. Many studies that have employed “psychological autopsy” reports have discovered that same sex sexual orientation is not represented disproportionately among suicide completers. Some other studies that utilized the same-sex partnership registries of Denmark revealed that people in such relationships are much more likely to commit suicide than heterosexuals are prone to. The risk was found to be higher among the male-male partners (Haas, Eliason, Mays, Cochran & D’Augelli, 11).
Conclusive research evidence is beginning to indicate higher suicide attempts in the LGBT population. For at least a couple decades, studies based on the United States population have discovered that reported suicide attempt rates are 2 to 7 times above the heterosexual rate for LGBT adolescents. The rates are also higher for people engaged in same sex relationships in the older populations. These findings are not exclusive to the United States, as some studies in other countries have reported similar results. An alarming observation is that clinical samples of transgenders looking for gender reassignment surgery report 19 to 25% suicide attempt rates (Haas et al., 12).
LGBT Suicide Deaths
Authoritative records and data is lacking when looking for LGBT suicide rates since such information is often excluded in death certificates. It is therefore necessary that suicide attempts, mental health issues and suicide ideation among LGBTs be given due consideration. There is enough evidence for some correlation in the LGBT population between sexual identity and sexual orientation and suicidal ideation, mental health issues and suicide. Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals typically report significantly higher substance abuse and depression; two conditions that are linked in some way to suicide issues (Johnson, Oxendine, Taub & Robertson, 622).
Since sexual orientation is often not included in people’s death certificates, there is no reliable means to determine at what rates above the normal LGBTs are involved in tendency towards suicide. Certain researchers and groups have attempted to evaluate any likelihood of overrepresentation of the group in suicide by the use of “psychological autopsy” reports with the help of friends and family to help determine the sexual orientation of the deceased. Some of the studies carried out like this have been published. The deduction is that there is no disproportionate representation of LGBTs among victims of suicide (Haas et al., 15).
To this day, psychological autopsy studies examining sexual orientation have made use of comparatively smaller samples. This has resulted in just a small percentage of the sample being a member of the LGBT population. In a New York study, three of one hundred and twenty adolescent suicide cases and not one in the control group were found to be of same sex orientation. A possibility may be that the informants chose not to disclose the orientation of some of the victims or they were just not aware of their orientation. But drawing conclusions from samples so small is not advisable for proper analysis of a phenomenon (Haas et al., 16; Johnson et al., 624).
A prevalence rate of between 3 and 4% would have been an indication of over-representation of gays in suicide cases by a factor of not less than three. Studies carried out recently in Denmark in the nation’s registries and various demographic data indicated that LGBTs were actually overrepresented in suicide cases. The matching of data in the Danish registries is relatively easy as identification numbers given at birth were used. A study linking Danish mortality as well as socio-demographic data did note that registered same sex partners were three to four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. This however was not the study’s focus and no corroborating data were availed (Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter and Gwadz, 969; Haas et al., 17).
A Danish study that followed with this as the explicit goal found that increased risk of suicide among people in same-sex partnerships was almost entirely concentrated among men. Men that were or that had been in same sex domestic partnerships were 8 times as likely as their heterosexual partners to commit suicide were. The number is twice as higher as men who had not married. While small samples limited the accuracy of the study, the suicide rates among same-sex partnerships in men was significantly high. The rates were not as significantly high among women (Haas et al., 19; McDermott, Katrina and Jonathan, 817).
Despite the statistics on suicide deaths, there has been established proof of some relationships between nonfatal suicidal behaviour and sex orientation globally. Studies the world over provide reasonable evidence of higher rates of attempted suicides in the LGB population. This has been primarily sources from “population-based studies.” Scientifically, such methods result in the best outcomes and can give better insights on suicidal behaviour in the LGBT population without and biases that may result when non-representative samples are made use of (Rosario et al., 971; Haas et al., 17).
From the early 1900s, United States adolescents population surveys that included sexual orientation found consistently that suicide attempts were higher among students that identified as LGB than their heterosexual colleagues. Analyses that were gender specific have alluded to sexual orientation being a significant independent suicide predictor among younger males than the younger females. The findings are consistent with other reports that have shown higher rates in this population (Rosario et al., 972; Marshal et al., 120; Johnson et al., 625). While there are speculations that LGB youths might exaggerate their suicidal tendencies, methods applied in more than 50% of all the attempts at suicide reported in one non-random young adults and LGB adolescents sample were characterized as moderate to lethal. Twenty one percent of the cases resulted in psychiatric or medical hospital admission (Hass et al., 18; Li Kitts, 625).
Another approach based on population done in a huge birth cohort in New Zealand discovered that at the age of 21, LGBs were 6 times more than their heterosexual partners to report suicide attempts. The chances were still significantly more than was the case for heterosexuals when LGBs were interviewed once more at the age of twenty-five (Haas et al., 18; McDermott et al., 827; Haladay, 22).
Reasons for Overrepresentation
Research indicates that LGB students in college are a lot more depressed, lonely and give fewer reasons to live than their heterosexual colleagues. Data reveals that young LGB people are more prone to considering or attempting suicide. A study carried out in 1989 reports that the rate is twice or thrice higher and completed suicides account for up to 30% of the total completed suicides every year (Haladay, 20). Scourfield, Roen and McDermott (330) discovered that adolescents in the LGB group were at least two times as likely to try suicidality as their peers who were heterosexuals. Other studies revealed that about 50% of LGB persons have at one time had suicidal thoughts (O’Donnell, Meyer & Schwartz, 1055). Also, 33 to 45% of the respondents in the population have at one time attempted suicide (O’Donnell et al., 1056; Scourfield et al., 331; McDermott et al., 818).
Marshall, Dietz, Friedman, Stall, Smith, McGinley & Thoma (115) on surveying heterosexual and LGB persons aged over 16 found that lesbians and gay men indicated higher psychological distress levels than the heterosexual women and men. The likelihood that they had been at one time in contact with mental health professional or used drugs and caused harm to self was also higher. The services offered to this group in terms of medical services have historically been lower than normal. It has been found that younger LGB persons are more prone to victimization and bullying than their heterosexual colleagues (Marshal et al., 116; Halady, 21). The effects of the bullying on mental health was further investigated by Haas et al. (10-51) who did discover that of 190 LGB respondents to the survey, 19% had at one time made an attempt at self-destructive behaviour. Eight percent of the respondents had done this more than once. Those who had undergone school bullying recorded higher numbers, with 30% of them engaging in several attempts at self-destructive behaviour. In one other study, Haas et al. discovered that 53% of the surveyed LGB persons had considered suicide or self-harm because of bullying in school. Forty percent had attempted self-harm or suicide and 30% had had done this more than once (Haas et al., 34-5; Li Kitts, 627).
Enough evidence is available to show that over the course of a life, LGB persons are often discriminated against. Such discrimination can take the form of physical violence, bullying, harassment, hostility or personal rejection. A significant stressor that comes that the group often deals with is rejection from parents as well as members of the family. Parental rejection has been shown to increase the risk of LGB youths’ suicide attempts (Rosario et al., 970). A study on Latino and White young adults that identify as LGB between the ages of 21 and 25 (Haas et al., 23) discovered that those experiencing frequent rejections from their caregivers or parents during their adolescent years were 8 times as likely to attempt suicide as the ones that had parents who were more accepting. Bisexual and gay Latino men reported the highest cases of rejecting behaviours and were significantly more likely to attempt suicide than the Latina females or whites. The effects of this rejection can be evidenced by the high number of LGB young adults and adolescents that are homeless. The estimation is that they form 20 to 40% of the nearly two million homeless American youth (O’Donnell et al., 1057; Scourfield et al., 332).
A lot has been gleaned from population-based surveys, but those researching suicidal behaviour among LGBT persons should have complemented this method of research with other methods. One way that can prove to be very valuable and save costs is identify LGBT persons among samples that suicide researchers are already studying. This can also lead to results that are more accurate. Even when the samples are relatively small, as is usually the case, with several genetic and neurobiological studies, identifying the subjects with minority gender or sexual orientation may provide very valuable information over time on the factors that occasion higher suicidal behaviour in such populations. Much more conclusive studies of LGBT methodologically sophisticated samples are required so that what leads to suicidal behaviour in various ethnic, racial, gender and age groups is established. Longitudinal studies following representative population sample over periods can be very beneficial. There is need to do more studies to establish what processes lead to the creation and maintenance of sexual minorities’ vulnerability to suicide issues. The focus in such a study should span several cultures and age groups and track those participating from their younger years into adulthood so that they establish the causalities also.
Haas, A. P., Eliason, M., Mays, V. M., Mathy, R. M., Cochran, S. D., & D’Augelli, A. R. Suicide and suicide risk in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: Review and recommendations. Journal of Homosexuality; 58 (1), (2011), 10-51.
Halady, Steven William. “Attempted Suicide, LGBT Identity, And Heightened Scrutiny.” American Journal of Bioethics 13.3 (2013): 20-22. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
Johnson, R.B. Oxendine, S. Taub, D.J. & Robertson, J. “Suicide Prevention for LGBT Students.” New Directions for Student Services 2013.141 (2013): 55-69. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
Li Kitts, Robert. “Gay Adolescents and Suicide: Understanding the Association.” Adolescence 40.159 (2005): 621-628. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
Marshal, M. P., Dietz, L. J., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., Smith, H. A., McGinley, J., Thoma, B. C., et al.. Suicidality and Depression Disparities between Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), (2011), 115-23.
McDermott, Elizabeth, Katrina Roen, and Jonathan Scourfield. “Avoiding Shame: Young LGBT People, Homophobia and Self-Destructive Behaviours.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 10.8 (2008): 815-829. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
O’Donnell, S., Meyer, I. H., & Schwartz, S. Increased risk of suicide attempts among Black and Latino lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. American Journal of Public Health, 101(6), (2011), 1055-9.
Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., and Gwadz, M. “Gay-Related Stress and Emotional Distress among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youths: A Longitudinal Examination.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(4), (2002), 967-975.
Scourfield, Jonathan, Roen, Katrina, and McDermott, Liz. “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Young People’s Experiences of Distress: Resilience, Ambivalence and Self-Destructive Behaviour.” Health & Social Care In the Community 16.3 (2008): 329-336. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
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