According to a recent study lead by UCL researchers, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) persons are more than twice as likely as their straight friends to have suicide thoughts or engage in self-harming activities.n
The study, published in the journal i>Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology/i>, is the first to examine nationally representative data on sexual orientation/a> and suicidality in England while comparing individual sexual minority groups. The researchers studied data from two household surveys of 10,443 English individuals (aged 16 and older), which were conducted in 2007 and 2014.
As well as finding an increased probability of past-year suicidal thoughts among self-harm among bisexual, lesbian or gay people, they also found that depression, anxiety, and experiences of discrimination or bullying may contribute in part to these increased risks.n
Concerningly, the researchers found no improvement in these inequalities in suicidal thoughts and self-harm between the two time points.n
Lead author Dr. Alexandra Pitman (UCL Psychiatry) said, “While national surveys of British attitudes towards same-sex relationships suggest that society has become more tolerant of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, there is clearly a long way to go, as the mental health outcomes we were studying did not improve across our study period.”n
“People with sexual minority identities continue to face more discrimination and bullying than heterosexual people and are also more likely to experience common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Our study suggests that these experiences of discrimination and bullying may have some role to play in increasing the risk of suicidality and this requires further research.”n
“Clinicians should be aware of these issues, so that we can best support the mental health of LGB patients, while society as a whole also has a role to play in helping to reduce discrimination. Government bodies, schools, workplaces and individuals should all consider their own cultures and attitudes towards people from sexual minority groups and challenge discriminatory behavior.”
The researchers had previously found, when analyzing the same dataset, an increased probability of depression, anxiety, alcohol misuse and drug misuse among LGB adults compared with their heterosexual peers. In the current study they found that half of lesbian or gay adults had experienced bullying and one in five had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation within the past year.n
For bisexual adults, almost half had experienced bullying and one in ten had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation within the past year.n
The researchers found that even after accounting for the increased risk of common mental health problems (depression and anxiety), lesbian and gay adults were still more than twice as likely as heterosexuals to report past-year suicidal thoughts, and lesbian, gay and bisexual adults were more than three times as likely to report lifetime non-suicidal self-harm than heterosexuals. The findings were similar for both men and women, and these inequalities had not changed between 2007 and 2014.n
When investigating the comparative likelihood of past-year suicide attempt, the researchers found an increased risk for bisexual adults when compared with heterosexuals, but this was no longer apparent when taking into account the increased risk of common mental health problems. The researchers caution that as the proportions with past-year suicide attempt were relatively low, their findings do not necessarily rule out an elevated suicide attempt risk among the sexual minority group as a whole.n
Further analysis suggested that experiences of bullying may contribute to the increased probability of suicidal thoughts among lesbian or gay adults, and that experiences of discrimination and bullying (both categorized as minority stress factors) may each contribute to the increased risk of self-harm among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults.n
First author Garrett Kidd, who worked on the study as his dissertation for a Clinical Mental Health Sciences MSc in UCL Psychiatry, said, “Our findings add to a concerning picture of health inequalities experienced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”n
“Our social needs. We also need to offer more mental health services specifically catered to LGBTQ+ people, ideally alongside community-based support.”n
The researchers say that further research is needed to fully understand the reasons why sexual minority groups are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or self-harm, such as how victimization, family environment or stigma might be contributing factors, and in order to develop public health interventions that could reduce suicidality and potentially save lives.
n Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt and non-suicidal self-harm amongst lesbian, gay and bisexual adults compared with heterosexual adults: analysis of data from two nationally representative English household surveys, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s00127-023-02490-4