Nearly four in 10 LGBTQ youth contemplated taking their own lives in the past year, according to a new report.
A survey released on Tuesday by youth suicide prevention organization the Trevor Project found that 39% of LGBTQ respondents between the ages of 13 and 24 “seriously considered suicide” within the past 12 months. Of the 34,000 individuals polled, trans and gender nonconforming youth — who made up about a third of participants — were among the most likely to attempt to end their lives. Around one in three members of this group reported attempting suicide in the past year.
The survey, which the Trevor Project says is the largest of its kind, was conducted over a seven-month period between February and October 2018. The nonprofit reached out to LGBTQ youth through targeted advertising campaigns on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
According to Amit Paley, the organization’s CEO and executive director, the survey will prove critical in “better understanding the mental health experiences of LGBTQ young people,” calling it a “a major step in addressing their significantly higher risk for attempting suicide.”
Dr. Amy Green, one of the researchers who worked on the report, says one of the most significant environmental factors in determining whether an LGBTQ young person had experienced suicidal ideation is whether they had experienced mistreatment on the basis of their identity. Respondents who said they had been threatened, abused, or discriminated against were twice as likely to report an attempted suicide.
“This represents a serious public health concern regarding the lives of LGBTQ youth,” Green, who serves as the director of research at The Trevor Project, tells Rolling Stone. “The reason why we are seeing these increased rates of suicide attempts are because of things that are happening in society, not being LGBTQ in and of itself.”
These outside environmental factors also include what’s happening in national and local politics, according to the Trevor Project. More than three in four respondents — or 76% — said the political landscape had impacted their mental health in the past year.
The survey, however, did not ask specifically about the Trump administration, which has repeatedly curtailed LGBTQ rights since the president took office in January 2017. Within the past month, the White House has proposed rolling back federal nondiscrimination protections for trans people in health care and put forward potential guidelines that would allow faith-based adoption and foster agencies to turn away same-sex couples.
But of the struggles that some LGBTQ youth face in their everyday lives, the report indicates that one of the most harmful is conversion therapy. Forty-two percent of young people who had been subjected to efforts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity had tried to take their lives within the past 12 months.
“While it was a small percentage of the sample — about five-percent of youth reported undergoing conversion therapy — the rate of suicide attempts there are much higher than I’ve seen in any area,” Green says.
That already elevated rate is even higher for trans and gender nonconforming youth: 57% who have undergone conversion therapy said they attempted suicide over that same period. In essence, Green says these results suggest that transgender and gender diverse young people “are more likely than not” to consider taking their own lives if put through reparative therapy programs.
For Sam Brinton, these findings are personal. In addition to serving as the Trevor Project’s head of advocacy and government affairs, Brinton — who uses gender-neutral pronouns — is a conversion therapy survivor. For two years, they were subjected to shock therapy and aversion treatments, like burning and freezing their hands.
Brinton tells Rolling Stone these treatments — which have been discredited by every leading medical association — are built on the false idea “that who you are is a choice and that choice can be changed.”
“As people told me that I could change and I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried, the depression and suicidal ideation skyrocketed,” Brinton says. “It was the world telling me that there was a solution just outside my fingertips. No matter how many times I reached out for it, it kept running away from me.”
Brinton says having these statistics to better illustrate experiences like theirs is critical in raising these issues with elected lawmakers. Through the Trevor Project, they spearhead the “50 Bills, 50 States” initiative, which seeks to ban conversion therapy across the country. The practice remains legal in 32 states, including Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
When the Williams Institute, a pro-LGBTQ think tank at UCLA, released a report in 2018 estimating that nearly 700,000 people had undergone conversion therapy in the U.S., Brinton says the impact of those findings was “transformative.” Since the report’s publication, nine states have moved to ban orientation change efforts.
Brinton hopes the Trevor Project’s report will continue to move the needle on conversion therapy.
“This will be the first time in their own words that LGBTQ youth will have said, ‘This hurts us,’” Brinton says. “That is going to be a powerful tool when it comes to passing laws and regulations that protect youth from future harm. We will be able to go to people and say, ‘If you pass this law, you will protect these youth from these kinds of harms.’”
As advocates with the Trevor Project work to raise awareness about conversion therapy, the organization pledges to continue to grow its resources to meet the needs of LGBTQ young people who need support and services. In April, the nationwide nonprofit expanded its text and chat services, which are now available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It also continues to offer its traditional helpline.
Although the expansion wasn’t timed to the report, Green says the survey shows why these resources are critical for LGBTQ youth. Of the 71% of young people who said they were “sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year,” only about half of them received psychological or mental health counseling.
“Clearly there’s a gap between the youth who are reporting mental health difficulties and the percentage receiving counseling for them,” Green says. “There’s still more work we’re planning on doing to reach all LGBTQ youth who need us.
The TrevorLifeline phone service is available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. FOr TrevorText, text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365.