December 19, 2017
2 min read

Sexual minority adolescents more likely to consider, plan, attempt suicide

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Sexual minority adolescents were significantly more likely to report that they considered, planned or attempted suicide compared with heterosexual teenagers in the United States, according to 2015 national survey data published in JAMA.

“Sexual minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning) adolescents are believed to have elevated suicide risks. Studies supporting this claim, however, rarely use nationally representative samples, which is a major limitation given that stigma and prevention resources vary across communities and may influence suicide risk behaviors,” John W. Ayers, PhD, adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “When nationally representative studies are available, they are not recent. Moreover, studies have ignored the diversity among sexual minorities, assuming all share the same risks.”

To determine suicide risk behaviors among sexual minority adolescents in high school, researchers used nationally representative data from the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Participants responded privately to questionnaires via computer that asked whether they had seriously considered, planned or attempted suicide in the past year. The investigators used the answers to compare these suicide risk behaviors between sexual minority teenagers and heterosexuals.

Overall, 15,624 participants reported their sexual orientation as heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual or questioning. In the past year, 40% of sexual minority adolescents reported seriously considering suicide (95% CI, 36.4-42.9); 34.9% reported planning suicide, (95% CI, 31.1- 38.6); and 24.9% reported attempting suicide (95% CI, 21.5- 28.2) compared with 14.8% (95% CI, 13.7-15.9) of heterosexuals considering; 11.9% (95% CI, 10.7-13) planning; and 6.3% (95% CI, 5.5-7.2) attempting suicide.

Compared with heterosexuals, sexual minority teenagers were significantly more likely to consider (RR = 2.45; 95% CI, 2.12-2.81), plan (RR = 2.59; 95% CI, 2.18-3.04) and attempt (RR = 3.37; 95% CI, 2.73-4.09) suicide, after adjusting for confounders.

Analysis of sexual minority subgroups showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning teens were all at elevated risk for suicide relative to heterosexuals. Bisexual adolescents were 46% more likely to consider, 40.8% more likely to plan or 31.9% more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual adolescents. Differences persisted after stratifying by sex and controlling for cofounders; for example, 40% of lesbians reported considering suicide vs. 19.6% of heterosexual females and 25.5% of gay males reported considering suicide vs. 10.6% of heterosexual.

“The substantial suicide risks among sexual minorities merits a comprehensive reaction. Policy makers should invest in research to understand and prevent suicide among sexual minorities,” Ayers and colleagues wrote. “Clinicians should discuss sexual orientation with patients, and allocate appropriate mental health resources. Caretakers should watch for signs of suicide risk behaviors among sexual minority adolescents, and seek supportive help when warranted.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure : The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.