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Resource Sheet

Facts about Suicide

  • Currently there are slightly more than 30,000 suicides annually (83 suicides per day; or 1 suicide every 17 minutes), with 11 of every 100,000 Americans killing themselves.
  • Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death.
  • Males complete suicide at a rate four times that of females. However, females attempt suicide three times more often than males.
  • Groups at particular risk include people with depression, schizophrenia, drug and/or chemical dependency, and panic disorders.
  • Feelings of hopelessness (e.g., there is no solution to my problem) are found to be more predictive of suicide risk than a diagnoses of depression per se.
  • Socially isolated individuals are generally found to be at a higher risk for suicide.
  • The vast majority of individuals who are suicidal often display clues and warning signs.

Statistics involving Suicide rates in the LGBT community

There are a few key points that must be highlighted when looking into suicide in the LGBT community when wondering if this group is at risk. These are:

  • A study found that when comparing heterosexual males and females with their gay and lesbian counterparts, they found that the gay men were 6 times more likely than the heterosexual males to attempt suicide and the lesbians were 2 times more likely than heterosexual females to attempt.
  • In the 1990's, gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth make up 20-40% of homeless youth in urban areas. These youth were 3.5 times more likely then heterosexual youth to attempt suicide according to information provided by the Youth Suicide Prevention Education Program Website.

There are numerous risk factors that contribute to suicide in the LGBT community.
These include:

  • Psychiatric disorders, primarily depression and anxiety, substance abuse, discrimination and homophobia, violence, and gender nonconformity.
  • Self-identification at a young age and interpersonal conflict in regards to sexual identity, and hidden sexual identity may affect those in the LGBT community.
  • Coming out at an early age, self-esteem issues, societal attitudes, family, religion and school all are risk factors. If a teenager does not have support from his family, peers, and/or society he is at greater risk.
  • Religion may also contribute to suicide among the LGBT community. Religions doctrine regarding homosexuality may cause parent's to condemn their child. These teenagers may be more vulnerable to suicide ideation.
  • Schools also contribute to problems for those in the LGBT community. These include a fear of being physically and/or verbally abused. Many schools do not teach that homosexuality is a normal variation of sexual behavior. These adolescents feel powerless in changing the situation which increases suicide contemplation. A fact sheet complied by GLSEN, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, shown on the Creating Safe Schools for Lesbian and Gay Student's website show that 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians report having an experience with verbal and/or physical harassment due to their sexual orientation.
  • Another problem in school situations is most counselors are not trained to know how to discuss homosexual issues.
  • In a national study, 28% of gay and lesbian high school students dropped out of school because of harassment resulting from their sexual orientation.
  • The use of drugs and alcohol may become a tool to help with depression and low self-esteem which may then increase the chance of suicide thoughts. A GLSEN complied fact sheet states that 68% of adolescent gay males and 83 % of lesbians use alcohol, 440/0 of gay males and 560/0 of lesbians use other drugs. This is because homosexual teenagers, in general, are more likely to use drugs.
  • Researchers have found that self-dislike and self-criticism are also predictors in suicide ideation. 80% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth report isolation problems. These feelings may contribute to suicide ideation because the negative feelings may occur more frequently.
  • To date, there is no empirical data regarding the number of completed suicides within the LGBT community.

Difficulties with LGBT Suicide Research

There are important issues to be considered when it comes to studying suicide in the LGBT community.

  • The definition of suicide is unclear. There are two broad definitions around a person's intent to act and therefore, it is hard to determine whether or not it was a suicide.
  • The definition of homosexuality is also unclear. Homosexuality is defined as having had homosexual experiences or having declared a homosexual orientation.
  • Sampling is a major problem due to the stigmas placed on those in the LGBT community. Many teenagers are not open about their sexuality. Also, many teenagers may not identify themselves as homosexual due to the negative connotations associated with the label.
  • The conclusions of some earlier studies about suicide in the LGBT community may not be accurate due to the lack of random samples, comparison groups, and the failure to control for a number of different factors including depression and past suicide attempts.
  • For a lot of adolescents, sexual orientation hasn't fully developed so they do not know. They are not gay or straight, but unsure or uncrystallized. They may or may not identify as gay, straight, or bisexual, thus affecting research.
  • Sexual identity is often not fully formed in adolescents. Sexual experimentation is going on and possible confusion about orientation.
  • Societal biases and research biases also affect the literature discussing suicide in the LGBT community.
  • There is also inadequate sampling to enable generalization.

Considerations for Future Projects

Considerations for researchers when starting a new project dealing with suicide in the LGBT community.

  • Future population-based surveys need to routinely inquire about sexual orientation. Longitudinal studies need to be conducted in order to see how the risk of suicide evolves during the lifespan of a person in the LGBT community. This however, can be said about any segment of the population.
  • "In order to develop more effective prevention and intervention strategies, future research needs to account for underlying psychosocial variables that may prove to be more salient."

References

Remafedi, Gary. Sexual Orientation and Youth Suicide. JAMA: Journal of the
     American Medical Association.
Vol. 282(13). Oct. 1999, 1291-1291.
     American Medical Assn, US
Muehrer, Peter PhD. Suicide and Sexual Orientation: A Critical Summary of
     Recent Research and Directions for Future Research. Suicide and Life-
     Threatening Behavior.
Vol. 25(Supplement) 1995.
     The American Association of Suicidology.
D' Augeli Anthony R, PhD, J. Stephen McDaniel, MD, and David Purcell, JD, PhD.
     The Relationship Between Sexual Orientation and Risk for Suicide Findings
     and Future Directions for Research and Prevention. Suicide and Life-
     Threatening Behavior.
Vol. 31 (Supplement), Spring 2001.
     The American Association of Suicidology.
Remafedi, Gary, MD, et al. The Relationship between Suicide Risk and Sexual
     Orientation: Results of a Population-Based Study. American Journal of Public
     Health.
Vol. 88(1), Jan. 1998.
Kulkin, Heidi S; Chauvin, Elizabeth A; Percle, Gretchen A. Suicide among gay and
     lesbian adolescents and young adults: A review of literature. Journal of
     Homosexuality
. Vol. 40(1) 2000, 1-29. Haworth Press, US
Rutter, Philip A. and Emil Soucar. Youth Suicide Risk and Sexual Orientation.
     Journal of Adolescence, Vol. 37(146) Sum. 2002, 289-299.

Risk Factors

Factors that play a role in suicidality, regardless of age and sexual orientation (IS PATH WARM?):

                                I Ideation
                                S Substance Abuse

                                P Purposelessness
                                A Anxiety
                                T Trapped
                                H Hopelessness

                                W Withdrawal
                                A Anger
                                R Recklessness
                                M Mood Changes

Organizations

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
http://www.afsp.org
AFSP is dedicated to advancing our knowledge of suicide and our ability to prevent it. AFSP's activities include supporting research proj ects, providing information and education about suicide and depression, and supporting programs for suicide survivor treatment, research and education.

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
http://www.lgbtcenters.org/
Exists to support the development of strong, sustainable LGBT community centers and to build a unified center movement.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
http://www.glsen.org/ The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The National Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health
http://www.lgbthealth.net/
The National Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health is committed to improving the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and communities through public education, coalition building and advocacy that focus on research, policy, education and training.

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays
http://www.pflag.org/
Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) is a national non-profit organization with over 200,000 members and supporters and over 500 affiliates in the United States. This vast grassroots network is cultivated, resourced and serviced by the PFLAG national office, located in Washington, D.C., the national Board of Directors and 13 Regional Directors.

The Sexuality Infonnation and Education Council of the United States
http://www.siecus.org/
SIECUS - the Sexuality Infonnation and Education Council of the United States - was founded in 1964 to provide education and infonnation about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health.

Soulforce
http://www.soulforce.org/
"The purpose of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans gender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
http://www.sprc.org/
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides prevention support, training, and resources to assist organizations and individuals to develop suicide prevention programs, interventions and policies, and to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. In particular, see http://www.sprc.org/library/SPRC_LGBT_Youth.pdf

American Association of Suicidology

AAS is a membership organization for all those involved in suicide prevention and intervention, or touched by suicide. AAS is a leader in the advancement of scientific and programmatic efforts in suicide prevention through research, education and training, the development of standards and resources, and survivor support services. For membership information, please contact:

References

American Association of Suicidology
5221 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20015
(202) 237-2280
(202) 237-2282 (Fax)
info@suicidology.org
http://www.suicidology.org

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