By Erin O’Donnell
Teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are much more vulnerable to attempting suicide, with a staggering 40% having considered it in the past year according to a recent study.
The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT kids ages 13-24, is researching how experiences like eating disorders, conversion therapy and homelessness effect suicidal ideation rates by gender identity, race, and sexual orientation.
“What little research currently exists doesn’t dig deeply enough into identities outside of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community, so we’re looking to make sure we’re accounting for all communities to better understand what is causing suicidal ideation, and in turn what can be done to prevent it,” said Calvin Stowell of the Trevor Project.
The Trevor project conducted an anonymous research study that helps scientists better understand and help to enact change regarding the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people. The goal of the project is to understand how many LGBTQ+ youth have had previous thoughts of suicide.
“We recently just wrapped up a survey with the National Eating Disorder Association about the intersection of eating disorders and suicide ideation across Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI),” says Stowell.
Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ people hide their mental health issues and may not feel comfortable to talk about their mental health issues due to stigma, that is if they even have a support system to turn to. Many do not. This “dual” or “double” stigma is often referred to as minority stress and can be caused by discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, abuse, harassment, victimization, social exclusion and family rejection, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth MD, an therapist for this population of kids, says that for years there was no funding for research and while funding remains limited, there are groups who have begun to gather much-needed information. Almost 28,000 people participated in the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, and 40% reported a history of attempted suicide, nearly nine times the rate of the general U.S. population. This kind of data is very basic, but helps to demonstrate the importance of bolstering care and conducting further research.
“There are many people who could benefit from therapy and/or psychiatric medications who are not in care because they are uninsured or cannot find quality care covered by their insurance plans,” says Dr. Erickson-Schroth. As one of the only industrialized countries without universal health care, the United States has an extremely fragmented mental health system that is a maze to navigate, even for the most informed consumer. In addition, LGBTQ people face the added hurdle of finding providers who are knowledgeable and supportive. A 2011 Stanford study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that medical students, on average, are exposed to only 5 hours of LGBTQ-related content over the entire four years. “There’s clearly a lot left to do to improve the quality and accessibility of mental health care for LGBTQ+ people,” she says.
Understanding the health needs of LGBTQ+ people is very important and many medical groups are creating an LGBTQ friendly practice. The American Medical Association suggests providing a welcoming environment with brochures, non-discriminant statements, and meeting the standards of practice by caring for LGBTQ+ patients. The University Of Louisville School Of Medicine is aiming to make medical education more LGBTQ+ friendly by developing a curriculum that would be a part of the medical students’ ongoing education including discussions of inclusive language. Jefferson Healthcare Hospital system has been recognized as a leader in LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.
“There is always more work to be done to decrease the number of people who take their own lives,” Dr. Erickson-Schroth says. “Specifically, it would be helpful to know more about the factors specific to LGBTQ communities that could prevent people from getting to the point of suicide.”