Study highlights differences between gay, straight suicides

The study says it is one of the first to examine the unique characteristics of LGBTQ people who died from suicide.
By Tim Fitzsimons

While research has determined that gays and lesbians are among the U.S. subgroups at an increased risk of suicidal behavior, a new study shines a spotlight on the ways in which suicide among sexual minorities differs from that of their heterosexual counterparts.

The study, published late last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is thought to be the first to use a large body of government data to examine suicides of gay males and lesbians. In order to compare suicides among sexual minorities to those of the broader population, the study analyzed more than 120,000 suicide deaths of those 15 and older across 18 states from 2003 to 2014.

"The current analysis," the report states, "revealed several differences by age, mechanism of injury, and precipitating circumstances." These differences among sexual minorities, the study continued, "underscore the need for prevention strategies for this population."

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Compared to heterosexuals, the report found gay men who killed themselves were likelier to have had a diagnosed mental health condition, a history of suicidal thoughts or plans, an argument before death and a crisis around the time of death. Like gay men, lesbians were also likelier than heterosexuals to have had a diagnosed mental health condition prior to suicide and were likelier to have tried to signal their desire to attempt suicide before doing so.

The study also compared the "most commonly used mechanism of injury” for straight and gay people who took their own lives. Straight men were the likeliest to use firearms, while straight women were likeliest to use poison. For gay men, the likeliest method of suicide was “hanging/strangulation/suffocation" (38 percent); for lesbians it was “hanging/strangulation/suffocation” (36 percent) and firearms (35 percent).

Noting that when compared to straight youth, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide, the study suggests “a need to conduct suicide prevention activities across age groups, including youth.”

Another significant finding is that lesbian and gay people are likelier than straight people to have reported a “depressed mood” or “intimate partner problems and arguments” before dying by suicide. The authors suggest “these differences may be linked in part to the minority stress and discrimination that lesbian and gay male populations experience.”

The study notes that one of the barriers that stands between sexual minorities and effective mental health care is that “some mental health providers may lack knowledge and awareness of issues (i.e., stigma and homophobia) that may be pertinent to many gender and sexual minority patients.”

In the report's conclusion, the authors suggest their findings can be used for suicide prevention efforts targeting sexual minorities.

"Suicide prevention programs developed or tailored for LGBT individuals can consider the risk factors that are most salient to the targeted population and how these factors may differ from non-LGBT individuals," the study states.

If you are in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe place to talk, call the 24/7 TrevorLifeline,1-866-488-7386, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.