Attempted suicide by American LGBT adolescents

by Michael Biggs

Michael Biggs is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Cross College. He researches social movements and collective protest.


Pediatrics just published an article showing that trans-identified children are substantially more likely to report attempted suicide than the general adolescent population. When the results are examined closely, however, we find that the risk extends to kids who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Emphasis on the exceptional fragility of trans adolescents overlooks the importance of sexual orientation. Indeed, my analysis suggests that gender-nonconforming girls are the most vulnerable, whether they consider themselves to be transgender, bisexual, or lesbian.

Previous evidence on suicide attempts among trans-identified youth has been methodologically flawed, even ignoring the most egregious examples. First, surveys have recruited respondents haphazardly—rather than sampling from a population. Second, respondents have not been asked for their sex, but only for their gender identity. In the United Kingdom, Stonewall’s School Report was marred on both counts.

Toomey, Syvertsen, and Shramko (2018)’s article in Pediatrics provides the first rigorous study of self-reported suicide attempts. They use data on 121,000 adolescents aged from 11 to 19, who were surveyed at schools across the United States. The findings, as reported by LGBTQ magazine The Advocate, are dramatic:

attemptedsuicide_advocate

Bear in mind that asking respondents whether they have ever attempted suicide will elicit an overestimate of the actual rate; we know from other studies that more probing questions are needed to distinguish genuine attempts to end life. Therefore we should interpret ‘attempted suicide’ broadly, to include all self-harming behaviors, including those not intended to result in death.

When the original article is examined closely, the results are more complicated than the headline suggests. The authors statistically analyze all the risk factors for attempted suicide, including sex and gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, and parental education. Surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest single risk factor is actually sexual orientation.

The authors are publishing a companion article on sexual orientation. Until that becomes available, it is possible to estimate (from their Table 2) how the risk of attempted suicide varied according to different combinations of gender identity and sexual orientation—after adjusting for other characteristics like age and race.

The calculation is straightforward for heterosexual, lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens who were not trans-identified. (For simplicity the intermediate categories of ‘mostly heterosexual’ and ‘mostly lesbian or gay’ are omitted.) For each transgender category, I calculate the risk averaged across the observed distribution (from Table 1) of sexual orientations within the category. A caveat is that the these estimates have considerable margin of error because they derive from small numbers: 202 identified as male-to-female, 175 as female-to-male, and 344 as not exclusively male or female (‘nonbinary’ for short). A further 1,052 adolescents were not sure of their gender.

attemptedsuicide_odds.jpg

The graph above shows the estimated odds of a student reporting attempted suicide, compared to heterosexual boys. As the Advocate emphasized, teens who identified as female-to-male transgender had the highest risk of attempted suicide; the odds were four times higher than for heterosexual boys. What went unnoticed is that the risk was just as high for bisexual girls.

The next highest rates (triple the odds compared to heterosexual boys) were for bisexual boys, lesbian girls and for kids who identified as nonbinary. The latter’s sex was not recorded, but the majority are likely to be female; other survey evidence suggests that two-thirds of trans-identified adolescents are female (Eisenberg et al. 2017).

The next highest rates (roughly double the odds for heterosexual boys) were for gay boys, for male-to-female transgender kids, and for kids who were unsure of their gender identity (whose sex was not recorded). Finally, heterosexual girls had a significantly higher risk than heterosexual boys.

Stephanie Davies-Arai and Nic Williams’ critique of Stonewall’s School Report suggested that “[t]he ‘transgender’ category may just serve to cover up the scale of suicide attempts and self-harm rates of girls and young women.” Their conjecture is vindicated by this survey evidence from the United States. Over two thirds of the girls who identified as boys were sexually attracted to females (inferred from the proportion calling themselves heterosexual or bisexual), and so arguably are most similar to lesbian and bisexual girls. In sum, then, gender-nonconforming females were the group most likely to report attempted suicide, regardless of whether they identified as male or nonbinary—or as bisexual or lesbian.

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Attempted suicide by American LGBT adolescents

  1. My biological daughter is saying that she is a transgender boy. She attempted suicide a few months ago. How about a prospective study on hospital admissions for attempted suicide? That could yield better results.

    Like

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter, I hope she is OK now.
      Hospital admissions could be used but wouldn’t allow you to compare the rate of trans-identified people who attempt suicide versus other groups.
      Haidt & Lukianoff’s new book (Coddling of the American Mind) discusses the 70% increase in suicide by girls since the 2000s, though I haven’t read it yet.

      Like

      • I don’t know that this is always true. I’m sure a lot of hospitals ask kids what gender they are — it certainly happened with my daughter when she was transidentifying and hospitalized for suicidal ideation (although she had no suicidal attempts). This maybe isn’t common practice everywhere, but it’s likely becoming standard.

        Like

  2. To cut to the chase, all we really know is that some kids are likely to do drastic and health-risking things in response to emotional distress. My visceral interpretation of this news (if it is news at all, versus something we already knew), is that it simply means that body-dysmorphic behaviors that seek surgical and chemical outlets are of a feather with other forms of self harm.

    It is doubly ironic, then, that in my family’s case this self-harming behavior was not only encouraged but to some extent suggested and groomed by a dialectic-behavioral therapist (DBT) we were sent to for an earlier brush with self-harming behavior that had no “gender” component at all. In other words, DBT was designed to help people find non-maladaptive ways to cope with distress, yet through the magic of legislative gag orders can now serve to help guide self harming children toward forms of self harm that are medically sanctioned and publicly funded.

    In other words: Why cut your arms and get negative push-back; when you can cut your breasts and genitals and get encouragement, money, and the promise that unrealistic fantasies are realities?

    Liked by 14 people

    • I am really sorry to read about a DBT therapist grooming your family member. I had an attempted suicide in 2012, and DBT saved my life.
      I should say that I am a bisexual woman who some might consider gender non-conforming, though I don’t emphasize my identity as such. I was definitely a gender non-conforming child in the 80s, and am so so so thankful that “transgender kids” wasn’t a thing then. Why? Because,

      I’m also a new mom, and have never been so thankful for this amazing body that nature gave me. Though I feel for the 1% of the population that has intersex conditions and the females who want to breed but are unable to do so- that does not take away from my ecstasy and joy at having been able to gestate and birth the most beautiful (to us of course) creation of joy and love with my husband.

      I read this site frequently because I have a son who may genetically be predisposed to be bisexual and/or gender nonconforming. I am terrified of a society that might tell him he is a girl because he likes dolls or pink. To be fair we try to keep powder blue and pink out of our house.

      Will he be genetically predisposed to anxiety and depression too? If my husband and my own’s history is any indication- yes.

      I am really horrified to read that a therapy that was integral to my gaining ground with my emotion regulation and distress tolerance could be a part of grooming people to commit more self harm and feel more self hate.

      This is all an aside but again, I am really sad and sorry to read your comment.

      Like

  3. How about comparing to suicide attempts by youth with known ASD or ADHD. There is an overlap with a “trans” presentation.
    For instance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24619651
    “As compared to non-referred comparisons, participants with ASD were 7.59 times more likely to express gender variance; participants with ADHD were 6.64 times more likely to express gender variance.”

    The more variables that can be collected, the more useful the analysis will be.
    Is being gender non-conforming the cause, or is it the ASD or ADHD?

    Liked by 2 people

    • What I want to know is what they mean by gender variance.
      I would find it understandable that girls with autism were considered gender variant because they struggle to understand expected female social norms and because they dislike the fussy accessories associated with women’s attire. But do they have an interest in sports like hockey, or activities like weightlifting? A desire to dress in an explicitly masculine style–not just jeans and a tshirt, but a suit and tie? An interest in being a truck driver or a mechanic? I would say all of those are associated with female gender variance in the US, but I’m not sure they also overlap with females who have autism.

      Like

    • Agreed, let’s also see an overlap with rates of serious mental illness. For example, people with borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that includes identity disturbance and self-harm, have a 70-80% rate rate of _attempted_ suicide.

      Like

  4. An attempted suicide means that the person has been rescued by either medical professionals or other people. So, what are the numbers from emergency rooms and parents, not those self-reported? With the culture of victimhood in the “trans cult”, claiming suicidal is, probably, high on the list. Otherwise you’re fake. “I was born in a wrong body” is a pretty powerful mantra on its own. I said it a few times and started to feel uncomfortable, self-hypnosis works.

    It’s also weird dividing kids as young as 11 y.o. by sexual orientation, without even providing a “no sexual interest yet” category. Sweetie, do you prefer sex with boys, girls or both? “Unsure of gender” is here, “unsure of sexual orientation” – forget it. What if somebody doesn’t even know until having dating and sex regularly? What if they change? I myself was homoromantic until 15, then developed interest in boys (out of our “lesbian club” of 5 girls, 4 ended up heterosexual and 1 bisexual; and a college friend discovered her preference for women in her 20s). It’s like they treat sexual orientation as another “identity” rather then reality. I suspect, those self-ids might indicate an anxiety level, not sexual orientation or gender. Like “oh, my God, I don’t have a bf, don’t wear makeup and I’m not really interested in sex. Should I put ‘bisexual’? Would ‘nonbinary’ be sufficient or should I put ‘FTM’?”

    Liked by 5 people

  5. WARNING PARENTS: You do not have to let your child be interrogated by the national “Profiles on Student Life” survey on which this study is based.

    It is not only wrong to interrogate students about suicide; it’s illegal.

    “No student shall be required…to submit to [evaluation] that reveals information concerning political affiliations or beliefs of the student or…parent,…sex behavior or attitudes,…[or] religious…beliefs of the student or…parent.”
    –20 USC 1232h

    Most states also have laws at the state level that outlaw this.

    So, the question becomes, does Profiles on Student Life really help school districts break the law and sexually interrogate minors? Or did they use parent reports?

    My guess would be the latter, because it’s happened here in Portland.

    OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) is our local teaching hospital and gender center. It’s started to use employee instructional sources that make outrageous claims based on the Profiles on Student Life survey as it was administered in our school district, Portland Public Schools. Specifically, not about suicide, but about the percentage of students who are “trans” in this community. The problem for OHSU is that they cite the Portland Public Schools publication in which the local Profiles on Student Life results were published, and it says nothing of the sort. Following OHSU’s citation, one can clearly see that the District only polled parents, not students, and that the numbers cited by OHSU are not the number of “trans” students, but the number of *parents* who declined to answer what their sexual orientation was!

    I will be writing a piece on this soon.

    But, suffice it to say:
    (1) Be wary of Trojans bearing teen “trans” statistics; and
    (2) No one should be interrogating teens at school about sex.

    Federal law also gives parents the right to be notified in advance about and the right to opt out of *all* sex-based curriculum *in any form.* For parents who wish to know what is or isn’t happening to your kid at school, contact your school and district and demand in writing that they let you see Profiles on Student Life results and any other sex or gender based curriculum, no matter when or where it is taught. Quote Uncle Sam to them.

    “All instructional materials…shall be available for inspection by the parents or guardians of the children….The term ‘instructional material’ means instructional content…provided to a student regardless of its format.”
    –20 USC 1232h

    A majority of states also have an opt-out right written into law as well. If so, you might mention in writing what you do and do not consent to, and that you will hold them liable for any harm coming from failure to heed your wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am generally wary of OHSU, as it was a pediatric endocrinologist there who was seeing my son for his T1 diabetes, who offered puberty-blocking hormones directly to him at age 12 then offered cross-sex hormones without ever consulting his several mental health specialists whom he had been seeing for multiple mental health diagnoses since the age of seven.

      We declined because she couldn’t tell us what were the interactions with his diabetes or his psychotropic meds. Probably a good thing; I’ve since discovered studies which indicate Lupron eats bones (not good when kiddo is already low on Vit D.) and other studies that indicate too-high levels of endogenous cross-sex hormones is strongly correlated with insulin resistance.

      I withdrew him from care at OHSU, and requested that the hospital/Dr. issue me a statement of how that is at all ethical or even in-line with the WPATH standards of care guidelines. No response.

      The endocrinologist at Randall Children’s saw the T marker on my kiddo’s chart and asked a few questions first. After a few questions, she decided that it was never appropriate for the first endo to offer such drugs.

      Like

  6. “Therefore we should interpret ‘attempted suicide’ broadly, to include all self-harming behaviors, including those not intended to result in death.”

    Define self-harming behavior. Cutting? Anorexia? What about being sexually promiscuous, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, vaping, not eating your vegetables, staying up too late…

    Personally I feel that taking cross-gender hormones and electing to surgically remove healthy body parts, ranks up there with THE most self-harming behaviors there are.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Agreed. It’s like clockwork, the frequency with which the trans fad evades discussion of its own fundamental characteristics by preemptively accusing others of what they themselves are doing.

      We’ve seen this with the New York Times’ completely fabricated “trans erasure” panic headlines this week, based on misinterpreting and misquotnig a milquetoast 2017 memo about separation of powers. No one “erased” anybody. The only ones trying to erase anything are the trans industry. Erase your past. Erase your body. Erase your name. Throw a fit when someone “dead names” you by reminding you of the inescapable fact that you had an entire existence that you yourself have tried to erase, along with everyone else’s right to speak.

      Pot, meet kettle.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Surely this is a “chicken and egg” situation – which came first? Did the thoughts of suicide occur before the decision to transgender? Some people regard suicide attempts as a cry for help, others may do it to focus other people’s attention on them.
    I seems to me that a lot of transgender people seem to have narcissistic tendancies, a kind of obsession about what they are called, how they look, and they want to be the centre of attention at all times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’ve come close, with your honing in on narcissist tendencies. Take a look at the symptoms/behaviors that typify Borderline Personality Disorder:

      Having an unstable or dysfunctional self-image or a distorted sense of self (how one feels about one’s self)
      Feelings of isolation, boredom and emptiness
      Difficulty feeling empathy for others
      A history of unstable relationships that can change drastically from intense love and idealization to intense hate
      A persistent fear of abandonment and rejection, including extreme emotional reactions to real and even perceived abandonment
      Intense, highly changeable moods that can last for several days or for just a few hours
      Strong feelings of anxiety, worry and depression
      Impulsive, risky, self-destructive and dangerous behaviors, including reckless driving, drug or alcohol abuse and having unsafe sex
      Hostility
      Unstable career plans, goals and aspirations

      Many people experience one or more of the above symptoms regularly, but a person with borderline personality disorder will experience many of the symptoms listed above consistently throughout adulthood. The term “borderline” refers to the fact that people with this condition tend to “border” on being diagnosed with additional mental health conditions in their lifetime, including psychosis.

      One of the ironies of this disorder is that people with BPD may crave closeness, but their intense and unstable emotional responses tend to alienate others, causing long-term feelings of isolation.

      Around 80 percent of people with borderline personality disorder display suicidal behaviors, including suicide attempts, cutting themselves, burning themselves, and other self-destructive acts. It is estimated that between 4 and 9 percent of people with BPD will die by suicide.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I have always said that it is pure narcissism for a group of people who comprise a fraction of a percent of the population to get together and rewrite the English language, and then insist that the rest of us adopt their perversion of it. The pronouns that have served all English-speaking peoples for centuries are suddenly not good enough for them? They need newly-invented pronouns to set themselves apart from the rest of us run-of-the-mill cisgendered people? Well, they didn’t create the English language, and they have no right to destroy it, much less to require the rest of us to go along with its destruction.

      Like

  8. People suffering from major depression are usually advised to make NO major life decisions until they recover. I have never understood why mental health professionals and doctors encourage medical transition for people who are so depressed they are suicidal. Medical transition is a major life decision.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s