Transgender youth attempt suicide twice as much as cisgender peers, study says

Transgender Youth Suicide

Russell Toomey, associate professor at University of Arizona, is the lead author of a study finding that transgender adolescents attempt suicide at least twice as much as their cisgender peers, teens who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Photo: University of Arizona.

Transgender adolescents attempt suicide at least twice as much as their cisgender peers, teens who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, according to a study from the University of Arizona.

SUICIDE ATTEMPTS

For example,  almost 51 percent of transmasculine adolescents – youth who were born female, but identify as male – and an estimated 42 percent of teens who don’t identify as exclusively male or female have attempted suicide, compared with 17.6 of cisgender females and 9.8 percent of cisgender males, according to the study.

The research was published today in the journal Pediatrics.

“To date, research on transgender adolescent suicide behaviors has really focused on comparing transgender youth as a whole group to cisgender youth as a whole group, rather than looking for any within-group differences that might exist, which we know might be beneficial knowledge for prevention and intervention efforts,” Russell Toomey, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

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THE STUDY

Toomey’s findings are based on an analysis of data from the Profiles of Student Life, a national survey on youth behaviors, attitudes, and experiences.

The survey includes 40 developmental assets associated with healthy development, as well as risk behaviors, such as depression and suicidal behaviors. Data was collected from 120,617 adolescents, most of whom identified as cisgender, from 2012 to 2015.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults between 10 to 34 years of age in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TRANSGENDER RESULTS

Survey respondents were asked, among other things, about their gender identity and whether or not they had ever attempted suicide. Nearly 14 percent of all adolescents surveyed reported having attempted suicide at least once, according to the study.

Here are the results of youth who attempted suicide at least once.

  • 50.8 percent of transmasculine adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 have attempted suicide at least once
  • 41.8 percent of nonbinary adolescents – those who don’t identify as exclusively male or exclusively female – have attempted suicide
  • 29.9 percent of transfeminine – youth who were born male but identify as female
  • 27.9 percent of youth questioning their gender identity,  
  • 17.6 percent of cisgender females
  • 9.8 percent of cisgender males

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED

More research is needed to understand why transmasculine youth are most at risk, but the finding aligns with research on suicide attempts in the cisgender population, Toomey said.

Those studies have shown that females are more likely to attempt suicide than males, but males are more likely to die by suicide because they more often use lethal means, he said.

This information suggests that people assigned female at birth are socialized in ways that might contribute to the heightened risk, Toomey said

More research also is needed to better understand the experiences of nonbinary adolescents, Toomey said.

“Nonbinary youth are putting themselves out there every day as not being read by society as male or female, and there hasn’t been much research on this population,” Toomey said. “We expect that they’re probably experiencing the highest levels of discrimination or victimization from their peers and from communities, based on their gender presentation.”

 

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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