Transgender and non-binary kids, according to recent study, have a significantly greater risk of suicide ideation and attempts than their cisgender peers.
The research has been published in the journal, “Canadian Medical Association Journal” Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults aged 15-24 years in Canada. Sexual minority youth — those attracted to the same gender or multiple genders or who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer — are also at increased risk of mental health issues, suicidal ideation (thoughts) and suicide attempts.
“The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a very stressful time for all young people, but particularly for gender and sexual minority teens. These findings, showing dramatic increases in suicide risk, should sound a clarion call that additional support is needed,” said Dr Ian Colman, a professor at the University of Ottawa and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway, with coauthors.
Researchers used data from the national 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Kids to enhance the knowledge base on the risk of suicide ideation and attempts among transgender and nonbinary youth. The study included 6800 teenagers aged 15 to 17, the majority of whom (99.4%) were cisgender (meaning they identify with the gender assigned at birth) and 0.6 percent were transgender (meaning they identify with a gender not assigned at birth). The majority of respondents (78.6%) were heterosexual, with 14.7 percent attracted to several genders, 4.3 percent undecided, 1.6 percent of girls attracted to females, and 0.8 percent of boys attracted to boys.
Overall, 14% of teens experienced suicidal ideation within the previous year, and 6.8% had previously attempted suicide. Transgender youth were 5 times more likely to think about suicide and 7.6 times more likely to have ever attempted suicide than cisgender youth.
“A really concerning finding is that more than half of all transgender youth reported seriously considering suicide in the previous 12 months. This is a crisis, and it shows just how much more needs to be done to support transgender young people,” says coauthor Fae Johnstone, executive director, Wisdom2Action, who is a trans woman herself.
The researchers also discovered that the percentage of teenagers who expressed some level of attraction to more than one gender was significantly greater than in prior studies. This might be due to the fact that this poll looked at attraction to other genders rather than self-reported sexual identity, or it could be due to a decrease in the stigma associated with bisexuality. This group was also more than twice as likely to have considered suicide.
Overall, 4.3 percent of teenagers said they were unsure about their sexual desire, which is referred to as “questioning.”
“Given that the exploration of romantic and sexual relationships is a major developmental task of adolescence, it is perhaps unsurprising that many begin to question sexual attraction and orientation during this time,” says lead author Dr Mila Kingsbury, University of Ottawa.
The association between suicidality and being a sexual or gender minority was partially explained by bullying or cyberbullying experienced by those teens.
The study’s findings are similar to those from the only other nationally representative study on the topic, which reported a fivefold increased risk of suicide attempts among transgender adolescents in New Zealand.
“Suicide prevention programs specifically targeted to transgender, nonbinary and sexual minority adolescents, as well as gender-affirming care for transgender adolescents, may help reduce the burden of suicidality among this group.
Given that these associations were partially mediated through the experience of bullying, systemic change in the form of primary prevention programs aimed at public awareness and promoting inclusivity may lead to a reduction of the experience of minority stress among sexual minority and transgender youth, reducing their risk of poor mental health and suicidality,” said Johnstone.