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Suicide attempt risk higher among non-heterosexual teens

Sexual minority adolescents have at least three times higher risk of attempting suicide than straight peers

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 09 October 2018

Sexual minority adolescents have at least a three times higher risk of attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers, a large review* published in JAMA Pediatrics has found. Its authors have called for education and public health planning to include strategies to improve care for sexual minority adolescents such as support programmes, counselling and efforts at destigmatisation.

The research team, led from the University of Milano-Bicocca in Monza, Italy, analysed 35 studies reported in 24 articles that involved a total of 2,378,987 heterosexual and 113,468 sexual minority adolescents aged 12-20 years; the studies had been conducted in 10 countries (Iceland, United States, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, and Korea). They performed a meta-analysis of the overall comparison of attempted suicide rates among sexual minority youths, and each sexual minority group, compared with their heterosexual peers.

Their analysis revealed that, overall, young people in a sexual minority were at significantly higher risk of attempted suicide than their peers who identified as heterosexual, although there was significant evidence of between-study heterogeneity (odds ratio (OR) 3.50). Estimated for each sexual minority group, the OR was 3.71 in the homosexual group and 3.69 in the bisexual group; only one of the analysed studies described transgender youths as an individual group, and this reported an OR of 5.87.

The researchers commented: “Our comprehensive meta-analysis revealed an increase in the risk of attempted suicide if youths’ sexual orientation was non-heterosexual, independently from sexual minority group (homosexual, bisexual, or transgender). Transgender youths had the highest risk, but all the subgroups were considerably burdened. Therefore, any of these sexual orientations should be considered an important risk agent… Most adolescents have to face the management of the activation of sexual impulsions. The understanding and acceptance of personal sexual orientation, if different from most youths, might require greater self-esteem and psychic resources.”

They acknowledged their study’s limitations: as well as the fact that only one of the studies identified transgender youths as an individual group, and data were self-reported.

They concluded: “Our findings suggest that youths with non-heterosexual identity have a significantly higher risk of life-threatening behaviour compared with their heterosexual peers. Public awareness is important, and a careful evaluation of supportive strategies (eg, support programmes, counselling, and destigmatising efforts) should be part of education and public health planning.”

*di Giacomo E, Krausz M, Colmegna F, et al. Estimating the risk of attempted suicide among sexual minority youths: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. Published online October 08, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2731.

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