Consensus Report on LGBT Suicide and Suicide Risk Released

An expert panel of 26 leading researchers, clinicians, educators and policy experts have released a comprehensive report on the prevalence and underlying causes of suicidal behavior in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents and adults. The panel includes 4 LGBT Pop Center affiliated scientists including Center Director Judith Bradford, Rob Garofalo, Tonda Hughes and Margaret Rosario. The panel was assembled by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.The report will be published as the lead article in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Homosexuality. The article is currently available online and available free by clicking on the "i Open Access" icon. The article will appear in print on Jan. 19.

Titled "Suicide and Suicide Risk in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations: Review and Recommendations," the report makes sweeping recommendations for closing knowledge gaps about suicidal behavior in LGBT people, and calls for making LGBT suicide prevention a national priority.

"With this report and recommendations, we hope to move LGBT suicide prevention squarely onto the national agenda and provide a framework for actions aimed at reducing suicidal behavior in these populations," said Dr. Ann Haas, lead author and director of prevention projects for AFSP. "It's time for the federal government, suicide prevention agencies, mental health professionals, policy makers and LGBT organizations to join together to bring this problem out of the closet and work toward effective solutions."

Despite four decades of research pointing to elevated rates of suicide attempts among LGBT people, national suicide prevention initiatives, including the 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, have given scant attention to suicide risk in sexual minority persons.

Key Findings and Recommendations

  • The report cites strong research evidence of significantly elevated rates of lifetime reported suicide attempts among LGBT adolescents and adults, compared to comparably-aged heterosexual persons. However, the authors found limited empirical evidence of higher rates of suicide deaths in LGBT people, mostly because sexual orientation and gender identity are not indicated on death records in the U.S. and most other countries.
  • Although multiple studies point to elevated rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse among sexual minority people, the panel found that these problems, by themselves, do not account for the higher rates of suicide attempts that have been reported by LGBT people. Thus, the consensus report identified stigma and discrimination as playing a key role, especially acts such as rejection or abuse by family members or peers, bullying and harassment, denunciation from religious communities and individual discrimination. The report also highlighted evidence that discriminatory laws and public policies have a profound negative impact on the mental health of gay adults.
  • In a series of recommendations, the consensus panel called on LGBT organizations to lead efforts to encourage early identification of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental disorders among LGBT people, and push for the development and testing of a wider range of culturally-appropriate mental health treatments and suicide prevention initiatives.
  • The consensus panel called for revision of diagnoses pertaining to transgender people in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (due out in 2013) to affirm that gender identity, expression and behavior that differ from birth sex is not indicative of a mental disorder.
  • Other recommendations focus on improving information about LGBT people by measuring sexual orientation and gender identity in all national health surveys in which respondents' privacy can be adequately protected, and encouraging researchers to include such measures in general population studies related to suicide and mental health.

AFSP spearheaded the development of this report, which emerged from a consensus conference on LGBT suicide risk sponsored by the Foundation, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The report is part of AFSP's LGBT suicide prevention effort, which is funded by a grant from the Johnson Family Foundation. To learn more, go to www.afsp.org/lgbt.