Half of young LGBT+ Americans considered suicide last year, troubling research finds

A young person holds up a sign that reads 'Love all kids' while a sign reading 'trans rights are human rights' is in the background

Almost half of LGBT+ youth in the US have seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to research. 

The Trevor Project – a suicide prevention and crisis intervention charity for LGBT+ young people – released its annual National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health survey on Wednesday (4 May).

The survey captured responses from 33,993 LGBT+ young people across the US, which indicated that the pandemic and “relentless political attacks” have had a major impact on the community’s mental wellbeing.

It found that nearly half (45 per cent) of LGBT+ youth had “seriously considered” suicide in the past year, rising to 53 per cent of trans and non-binary youth.

Tragically, trans and non-binary youth people were also at higher risk of attempting suicide, according to the Trevor Project research.

Nearly one in five (19 per cent) of trans and non-binary youth had attempted suicide in the last year, compared to approximately one in 10 cisgender queer youth (nine per cent). 

The Trevor Project CEO and executive director Amit Paley said the research demonstrated that “suicidal thoughts have trended upward among LGBTQ young people” in recent years, making the organisation’s “life-saving work all the more important”. 

“The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and relentless political attacks during this time period cannot be understated,” Paley said.

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of young LGBT+ people surveyed said they’d experienced symptoms of anxiety, and 58 per cent reported feeling symptoms of depression. 

Trans and non-binary youth were more likely to experience anxiety (78 per cent) and depression (65 per cent) when compared to their cisgender peers (65 per cent and 47 per cent respectively). 

Almost all trans and non-binary people worry about healthcare bans

The Trevor Project survey also found that the rising number of anti-LGBT+ bills attempting to marginalise the queer community – with many directly attacking trans youth – has had an horrific impact on the mental health of young people in the US. 

A majority (93 per cent) of trans and non-binary young people said they were worried about trans people being denied access to gender-affirming medical care. A large number (91 per cent) were concerned about being denied access to the bathroom, and 83 per cent feared trans people would be denied the ability to participate in athletics as a direct result of anti-trans sports bans. 

Among all LGBT+ youth, 82 per cent wanted mental health care while 18 per cent did not. Yet, 60 per cent of youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it.

The top four barriers to getting such care were fears about discussing mental health (48 per cent), concerns about parental permission (45 per cent), fears about not being taken seriously (43 per cent) and not being able to afford care (41 per cent). 

Many LGBT+ young people shared they were concerned that care providers might not understand their culture. Over 21 per cent Middle Eastern and North African; 18 per cent of Asian American and Pacific Islanders; 13 per cent of Black; 9 per cent of Latinx; and nine per cent of Native and Indigenous LGBT+ youth felt care professionals wouldn’t understand their culture. 

This was compared to just two per cent of white LGBT+ young people who said they felt the same. 

Dr Myeshia Price, senior research scientist for the Trevor Project, said it was important to understand intersectionality in research as “disparities in mental health and suicide risk were found across race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity”.

She said this was particularly true for LGBT+ youth and needed to be considered in future research in order to “better understand and support the young people who need us most”.

“Lumping diverse youth into broad identity categories and applying single-size approaches does a disservice to everyone, and makes our work to end LGBTQ youth suicide even harder,” they said. 

Paley added that it was “essential to emphasise” that there are no definitive “counts or registries” of LGBT+ young people in the US, so “comprehensive, intersectional data on their mental health outcomes” remains limited. 

The survey “strives to fill these gaps” and “amplify the experiences of young LGBTQ people”, Paley said. He described queer young people as a “marginalised group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatised in society”. 

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.