Suicidal ideation and self-harm in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth

Richard T Liu, Brian Mustanski
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012, 42 (3): 221-8

BACKGROUND: Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among adolescents and nonsuicidal self-harm occurs in 13%-45% of individuals within this age group, making these phenomena major public health concerns. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth particularly are at risk for engaging in these behaviors. Nevertheless, relatively little is known about the specific risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviors in the population.

PURPOSE: This study provides a longitudinal evaluation of the relative contributions of general and LGBT-specific risk factors as well as protective factors to the occurrence of suicidal ideation and self-harm in an ethnically diverse sample of LGBT youth.

METHODS: A community sample of 246 LGBT youth (aged 16-20 years) was followed prospectively over five time points at regular 6-month intervals. Participants completed a baseline structured interview assessing suicide attempt history and questionnaires measuring gender nonconformity, impulsivity, and sensation-seeking. At follow-up assessments, participants completed a structured interview assessing self-harm and questionnaires for suicidal ideation, hopelessness, social support, and LGBT victimization. Data were collected from 2007 to 2011, and HLM analyses were conducted in 2011.

RESULTS: A history of attempted suicide (p=0.05); impulsivity (p=0.01); and prospective LGBT victimization (p=0.03) and low social support (p=0.02) were associated with increased risk for suicidal ideation. Suicide attempt history (p<0.01); sensation-seeking (p=0.04); female gender (p<0.01); childhood gender nonconformity (p<0.01); and prospective hopelessness (p<0.01) and victimization (p<0.01) were associated with greater self-harm.

CONCLUSIONS: General and LGBT-specific risk factors both uniquely contribute to likelihood of suicidal ideation and self-harm in LGBT youth, which may, in part, account for the higher risk of these phenomena observed in this population.

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