About 50% of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime, and that’s just one of the alarming numbers about trans youth revealed in a new study.
Researchers at the University of Arizona examined suicidal behavior among transgender youth and, in what may be a first, broke down the data to see how rates differed among different gender identities.
Trans boys and young men between the ages of 11 and 19 were the group that reported the most attempts, but attempts were higher for trans youth compared to cisgender youth across the board. For nonbinary youth, 41.8% said they had attempted suicide, as had 29.9% of transgender girls and women. For those adolescents who weren’t sure or were questioning their gender identity, it was 27.9%.
By contrast, 17.6% of cisgender females had attempted suicide, along with 9.8% of cisgender males.
The data were collected by surveying 120,617 teens ages 11 to 19, including more than 1,700 who identified as transgender or said they were questioning their gender. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Though the study didn’t examine the reason for the alarming results, the researchers have some ideas.
“Transmasculine youth, as well as nonbinary youth, really lack a sense of community or visibility,” Russ Toomey told BuzzFeed News. Toomey, lead author on the study, is an associate professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“In mass media, we have some transfeminine actors, for example, represented in the media, however there are very few transmasculine or nonbinary people represented in the larger culture.”
He noted that feelings of isolation are a well-documented risk factor for suicide.
“It was exceedingly upsetting, but this is not, unfortunately, anything new to our ears,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, director of external relations for the National Center for Transgender Equality, a social justice organization in Washington, DC.
She told BuzzFeed News that their organization’s work has shown that discrimination — in housing and employment, at school, and from doctors and family members — increases the risk for suicide.
“Overall what we hear from people who attempt is that they can’t deal with the stigma. What we always try and say is that there’s nothing that trans people have done — society is just so slow in accepting and it creates scenarios where people don’t feel supported and safe.”
Toomey said it’s also important to note that the results may have a survivor bias. It’s possible that in the transgender population, teen girls and young women have higher rates of suicide rather than suicide attempts, but the US lacks specific details about suicides among transgender populations. In the US Transgender Survey that was released in 2015, 40% of the more than 27,000 respondents said they had attempted suicide in their lifetime.
Trans Lifeline (US: 877-565-8860; Canada: 877-330-6366) was founded in 2014 as the first and only trans-led suicide crisis hotline. Its director, Sam Ames, told BuzzFeed News that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“If we are to truly protect the lives of trans youth, we have to intervene before they are in crisis — at the moments of bullying, harassment, and discrimination that make it feel impossible to live authentically,” they said.
“We get calls every day from young trans people fighting for their right to live, but they shouldn’t have to be demonstrating such extraordinary resilience. We owe it to them to study not only what takes their lives, but what makes their lives worth living.”
The study in Pediatrics also examined how sexual orientation and gender identity intersect and found a greater risk of suicidal behavior among those who don’t identify as heterosexual, regardless of gender identity.
If you are thinking about suicide or just need to talk to someone, you can speak to someone by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. And here are suicide helplines outside the US.