Nonsuicidal Self-Injury and Suicidality Among Sexual Minority Youth: Risk Factors and Protective Connectedness Factors

Lindsay A Taliaferro, Jennifer J Muehlenkamp
Academic Pediatrics 2017, 17 (7): 715-722

OBJECTIVE: We investigated differences in prevalence of repetitive nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), suicidal ideation, and a suicide attempt among youth who identified as bisexual, gay/lesbian, and questioning. In addition, we examined which types of social connections were associated with reduced risk of repetitive NSSI and suicidality among youth who identified with a specific sexual minority group.

METHODS: Data came from the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey. The analytic sample included 77,758 students in grades 9 and 11. Connectedness factors included parent connectedness, teacher caring, connectedness to other nonparental adults, school safety, and friend caring. Logistic regression analyses, stratified according to sexual minority group, determined social connectedness factors associated with repetitive NSSI, suicidal ideation, and a suicide attempt, as well as moderating effects of significant connectedness factors on different risk factors (depression, anxiety, bullying, and violence victimization).

RESULTS: Approximately 3% identified as bisexual or questioning their sexual orientation, and <1% identified as gay/lesbian. Sexual minority youth, particularly bisexual youth, were significantly more likely than heterosexual youth to report repetitive NSSI and suicidality. Effects of connectedness varied across sexual minority groups and outcomes on the basis of types of connections. Parent connectedness emerged as a robust protective factor for all self-harm behaviors among bisexual and questioning youth. Feeling connected to nonparental adults and safe at school represented additional factors that reduced risk of repetitive NSSI and suicidality among certain groups.

CONCLUSIONS: In addition to facilitating connections between youth and parents, clinicians might consider encouraging sexual minority youth to remain connected to trusted nonparental adults who could offer support and care. Schools might consider implementing sociocultural norms of acceptance, tolerance, and positive identity development to reduce risk of self-harm.

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