LGBTQ Suicide Rates — Why LGBTQ Communities Are at Higher Risk

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | June 30, 2023

Members of the LGBTQ community are at a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Studies show LGBTQ individuals are up to three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual individuals, with factors like discrimination, family rejection and lack of support and resources contributing to these rates. 

Promoting protective factors like access to behavioral and mental health services, social support and accepting environments can help us reduce disparities in LGBTQ suicide rates and support the well-being of all community members. 

In This Article

Why Do LGBTQ Communities Face a Higher Risk Of Suicide?

Why Do LGBTQ Communities Face a Higher Risk Of Suicide?

There are several reasons the LGBTQ community might be at higher risk for suicide: 

Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination, stigma and social exclusion are some of the main factors behind high LGBTQ suicide rates. LGBTQ individuals often face discrimination and harassment from society and sometimes even their own families, which can lead to isolation and hopelessness. One study found 36% of LGBTQ youth reported being physically harmed or threatened.

This can be particularly true for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, who may face even more discrimination and marginalization. One study found that minority stress can lead to higher rates of LGBTQ teen suicide rates, with youth at 12 times greater risk of suicide compared to youth who experienced none. 

Other studies find that rejection from family can lead to these higher rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth, with only 37% saying that their home is LGBTQ-affirming. The same study found that 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth find their homes to be gender-affirming. 

Mental Health Behaviors and Emotions

In addition, LGBTQ individuals may also struggle with their mental health, such as depression, anxiety and substance use. The stress and trauma associated with discrimination and marginalization can exacerbate these feelings and emotions. LGBTQ individuals are twice as likely to struggle with a mental health condition than heterosexual individuals.

Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely than cisgender individuals to have a mental health condition, and transgender youth are twice as likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to cisgender LGBTQ youth, likely leading to increased suicide rates of transgender youth.

Lack of Support and Resources

Another factor contributing to higher LGBTQ suicide rates is the lack of support and resources available to them. Many LGBTQ individuals do not have access to mental health care. They may feel uncomfortable seeking help from mainstream behavioral and mental health providers who may not understand their unique experiences and needs. 

Many LGBTQ individuals also experience rejection and invalidation of their identities from behavioral and mental health professionals, making seeking and receiving appropriate care difficult.

Barriers to Accessing Health Care

In many cases, LGBTQ individuals may also face additional barriers to accessing health care, such as lack of health insurance, poverty and geographic isolation. It’s estimated that 28% of LGBTQ youth experience homelessness at some point in their lives, often due to rejection or discrimination. The risk is exceptionally high among Black and Native American or Alaska Native LGBTQ youth. 

These factors can make it difficult for them to receive timely and appropriate care, which can contribute to an increased risk of suicide. 

Intersectionality Risks

Lastly, the intersectionality of identities can also impact suicide risk. LGBTQ individuals who also belong to other marginalized groups, such as people of color or individuals with disabilities, may face even higher levels of discrimination and marginalization, which can further increase gay youth suicide rates. 

Key Protective Factors for LGBTQ Individuals

Addressing the high rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth requires a comprehensive approach that includes efforts to reduce discrimination and promote acceptance, increase access to culturally competent behavioral and mental health care and provide support and resources to LGBTQ individuals. 

Key Protective Factors for LGBTQ Individuals

Here are some of the key protective factors for LGBTQ individuals:

Social Support

Having supportive family, friends and community members can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social support can come from various sources, including LGBTQ community centers, support groups and online communities. Studies show having at least one supportive adult can reduce the risk of LGBTQ teen suicide attempts by 40%. A 2021 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who felt accepted by adults and peers had significantly lower chances of attempting suicide.

Advocacy and Activism

Engaging in advocacy and activism can help LGBTQ individuals feel empowered and connected to their community. This can include volunteering at LGBTQ organizations, participating in political campaigns and advocating for LGBTQ rights. A 2022 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who could change their legal documents had lower suicide attempt rates than those who did not.

Additionally, gender-affirming medical care is associated with positive mental health outcomes, including reducing suicide risk. A 2021 study found that gender-affirming hormone therapy significantly lowers depression rates and trans youth suicide rates. 

Safe and Accepting Environments

Having safe and accepting environments, such as schools, workplaces and health care settings, can help reduce the risk of harassment, discrimination and other forms of violence or abuse. This can include policies and practices that promote diversity, inclusion and equity.

LGBTQ youth who reported their homes and schools to be LGBTQ-affirming experienced lower rates of suicide attempts. Having trusted adults at school could lead to higher levels of self-esteem and protection against anxiety and depression, including those lacking support at home.

Access to Behavioral and Mental Health Services

Access to quality behavioral and mental health services can help LGBTQ individuals cope with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health behaviors and feelings. Professional services can include counseling, therapy and medication management. Therapy can help LGBTQ members adopt a more positive sense of self-identity and self-esteem to protect against harmful attitudes and experiences related to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

It is essential to prioritize suicide prevention efforts tailored to the unique experiences and needs of LGBTQ individuals to reduce the rates of suicide and promote mental health and well-being within the LGBTQ community. 

At Hillside, we provide residential care, day programs, virtual intensive outpatient and intensive in-home therapy to help LGBTQ individuals experiencing behavioral or mental health conditions. Our programs are grounded in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and social-emotional ethical learning (SEE Learning) to support LGBTQ youth in managing challenging emotions and establishing relationships with their families. 

Seek Professional LGBTQ Support from Hillside®

Discrimination, rejection and barriers to accessing health care play a role in higher suicide rates of transgender youth and lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. Fortunately, help is out there. Hillside® is an Atlanta-based mental health treatment provider offering professional counseling, community intervention and other support services to help individuals thrive.

Seek Professional LGBTQ Support from Hillside®

If your child is struggling, we urge you to reach out to us. We offer a safe environment where your child can talk openly and share their experiences.

Author

  • Hillside Clinical Education & Referral Relations Manager - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!