Wonky Wednesday: The challenge of LGBT suicide

By Victoria M. Rodríguez Roldán, Task Force Holley Law Fellow

(Author’s note: This article is not intended as any form of psychological help or substitution to it. If you or someone you know is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or the Trevor lifeline for LGBT youth at 1-866-488-7386)

While suicide has been one of the great life claiming demons of the LGBT community, particularly with youth, developing credible statistics to measure the issue has been a major problem for a variety of reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 38,364 suicides in the country in 2010, making it the tenth leading cause of death for all ages and giving a national suicide rate of 1.6% of all deaths in the US. However, the CDC and the Health Department get their data by the submission of vital statistics bureaus from states and territories throughout the country, who collect data from what is entered into death certificates by coroners and forensic pathologists. Since we cannot ask someone who has died about their gender identity or sexual orientation, nor is it included in many death certificates and police reports, we have incomplete data on LGBT people and suicide.

Therefore, one of the primary methods of measuring suicide within the LGBT community has been of measuring suicidal ideation as well as histories of prior suicide attempts. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey by the Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality reveals that 41% of trans respondents had attempted suicide, which when compared to the aforementioned general population statistics is downright astronomical.

Going into LGB statistics, a large amount of the data is centered around youth under 18, thanks to the youth risk behavior surveys conducted in various state public school systems and coordinated by the CDC, revealing similarly high figures. In between 2007 and 2011 in Wisconsin among surveyed students, 28% of LGB identified students had attempted suicide, with 42% having expressed one form of suicidal ideation or another, compared respectively to 7% and 15% of straight youth. In essence, one and a half times more LGB youth had thought of suicide than had attempted it.

A final risk factor that must be taken into consideration is one that reveals the truly disturbing nature of these figures: one of the major risk factors of suicide is knowing someone who attempted suicide or committed suicide. This creates a situation where few people within the LGBT community will not know someone who has not committed or attempted suicide, thus creating a multiplied risk within the entirety of the LGBT community. Given all of the stated risk factors, it becomes nearly impossible for an LGBT person to not be at a heightened risk of suicide.

That said, much is being done to counteract these risk factors and trends. Click here to read more about how the national suicide prevention strategy incorporates the LGBT community in prevention work. You can also read more here about how to safely talk about suicide.