JOURNAL ARTICLE

Non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in heterosexual and sexual minority young adults

Aliona Tsypes, Robert Lane, Elise Paul, Janis Whitlock
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2016, 65: 32-43
26773988

OBJECTIVE: Despite consistently greater rates of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs; i.e., suicidal ideation, method/plan, and attempts) in lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals, prevalence, characteristics, and relations between these dangerous thoughts and behaviors are equivocal. The present study sought to examine and compare the rates of NSSI and STBs in a large sample of sexual minority and majority young adults.

METHODS: Participants were 12,422 college students (ages 18-29; 57.3% female) who self-reported demographic characteristics, NSSI frequency, the number of NSSI forms used, the number of NSSI functions, as well as STB history (i.e., ideation, method/plan, and attempts). Each participant's degree of SA was assessed via a 7-point scale (i.e., K0-K6) from Alfred Kinsey's research of sexual attraction and sexual experiences. This scale was collapsed to create five categories of SA: exclusively other SA (K0), mostly other SA (K1/2), equally other and same SA (K3), mostly same SA (K4/5), and exclusively same SA (K6).

RESULTS: Consistent with previous research, we found that being a sexual minority young adult was associated with significantly higher odds of STBs compared to being a heterosexual young adult. In addition, compared to the exclusively other SA group (K0), being in the mostly other SA group (K1/2), equally other and same SA group (K3), or mostly same SA group (K4/5) was associated with significantly higher odds of NSSI engagement. Among those with NSSI, we found that the number of NSSI forms was significantly associated with suicide attempts, but was not associated with either suicidal ideation or suicide method/plan in the mostly other SA group (K1/2) or in the equally other and same SA group (K3). We also found a significant curvilinear relation between NSSI frequency and STBs in the mostly other SA group (K1/2) and between NSSI frequency and suicide method/plan and attempt in the exclusively other SA group (K0). In addition, we revealed specificity with regard to the relation between the number of lifetime NSSI episodes and risk for STBs among the equally other and same SA (K3), mostly same SA (K4/5), and exclusively same SA (K6) groups.

CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that among sexual minority young adults, equally other and same SA individuals may be at higher risk of NSSI and STBs than their sexual minority counterparts. In addition, these findings extend previous research by suggesting that the relations between NSSI frequency, number of forms, and number of functions and STBs might vary according to SA. A multi-theory based explanation is provided to explain the key findings and the study implications are discussed.

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