Gay youth and the added risks of suicide
Posted by mandyf on June 6, 2012
The link between gay teens and suicide is horrifying to examine, there is simply no better or gentler way to describe it. While numerous factors play a role in this phenomena, there are some key areas which seem to lend to this sad state of affairs for LGBT youth more than others. While it is difficult to understand what being a gay or transgendered teen is like if you have never been one, it is quite easy to recall what being a teen is like and then extrapolating that so that heterosexuals can also get a feeling of what encompasses the issues these young people face.
Being a teen is rarely easy for anyone considering puberty and a greater self awareness of ones own identity. Add in the importance of socialization, the need for greater independence while still being primarily dependent on family for meeting the basic necessities of life, and the general state of confusion life presents, and you have your typical teen. Add to that the confusion that often accompanies the realization in no uncertain terms that being gay is not considered the norm and the fallout that all too often results from that awareness and expression and you have the potential for tragedy on steroids.
One of the overlooked issues is that most gay people in this day and age come out of the closet in their teens. This doesn’t mean they just realized they were gay, it means this is the first stage in their life they realize the importance of such an action. This is when kids become more sexually aware so far as dating and feeling a need to satisfy the hormonal urges that were not present as pre-teens. The problem is that while they realize these urges, they often fail to realize the potential for the increased social stigma that comes with it.
In a perfect world family and friends would be supportive of kids going through the coming out phase, but in too many cases they are not. This creates a feeling of alienation and often despair in which the gay youth feels there is no one and nowhere to turn to for support. On the other side of the fence is the youth that is all too aware coming out can lead to those problems so they say nothing, and find themselves feeling a more internal alienation and desperation which is often mixed with a growing feeling of self loathing. So long as they stay in the closet they are in good standing with the outside world, internally they are a train wreck.
Going back to 1995 when the link between gay youth and suicide was first seriously examined by the CDC,
the numbers were bad enough to warrant further investigation. Of 4,167 students from the 8th through 12th grade whom were surveyed anonymously, 3.8 identified as LGBT or unsure of their orientation, approximately 158 people. Overall these students were 3.41 times more likely to have reported an attempted suicide in the previous year than their heterosexual peers. When the group was narrowed to focus on males alone the number rose significantly.
Moving forward in time more recent studies point towards about 20% of LGBT youth at least having suicidal ideation’s with bisexual and lesbian youth being on the low end of the spectrum, gay males near the top, and transgender youth topping the list. While percentages cited vary wildly depending on the source, most purely scientific non-biased research points towards gay youth being more likely to have suicidal ideation’s, attempts, and completed suicides. Setting transgender youth aside, gay white males are the most likely to commit suicide with gay black males making up ground at an alarming pace.
What makes this even more troubling for gay youth that are having suicidal ideation’s is that these are often the very people that are receiving no or very little face to face support. As a result they turn to the internet looking for answers only to find what appear to be reputable sites loudly claiming that gay teen suicide is a myth. They read on to hear it is no more common than overall suicide rates, and the sites appear to fully be on the up and up. That is until you read the fine print in the studies which makes the field of people that qualify as gay and meet predetermined individual study criteria like never, not just a couple times, but never having tried drugs or alcohol and such other illogical excluding factors like “feelings of depression.” Youth read these “studies” often financed by the new wave of focus on family religiously funded groups and feel even more alone and filled with despair.
The teen now has a feeling of ever increased isolation and oddity because were they to believe what they read at such sites everyone else is coping with being gay just fine except for them. By contrast were they to visit a site solely focused on teen suicide without the slant of homosexuality they would get the exact opposite message of “you are not alone” or some such similar slogan. While that is a simplistic statement it is still useful to illustrate yet another potential contributor to the high rate of suicide among LGBT youth.
The simple fact is gay youth face a different set of hurdles than most of their peers. While it is true that there are other demographics which can be cited where suicide is higher than the norm such as families with an abusive parent or rampant drug use, the difference is they have plenty of places to turn, even in the legal arena, because their problems are viewed differently by the population in general. Before you dismiss gay youth suicide as a myth or something that was created to promote sympathy as some anti-gay organizations would have you believe, think logically about the issue. Consider the increased load of factors that can aggravate a person in an already awkward period of life and ask yourself if it seems reasonable. This is a problem which is not going away and these are young people that not only need but deserve all the support they can get, just like their heterosexual peers having the same suicidal ideations.