Researchers at New York University and the University of Arizona will study the causes behind suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth over a three-year period. Their study, under a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, is also intended to discover avenues of interventions to lower the risk of suicide among LGBT teenagers and those in their early 20s.
“Study after study has found higher rates of suicidal behaviors among LGBT youth than for their heterosexual peers,” explained Arnold Grossman, a professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the project’s principal investigator. “Other research has pointed to potential causes. For instance, compared to prior generations, today’s LGBT youth are increasingly aware of, identifying and disclosing their sexual and gender identities earlier in life. As a result, they are more likely to be exposed to suicidal risk factors—such as bullying, harassment, marginalization, and victimization by family members and peers.”
The study’s co-investigator is Stephen Russell, Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair and Director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, & Families at the University of Arizona’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Studies.
Their research will follow, over a three-year period, more than 1,000 LGBT youth aged 15 to 21 in three metropolitan areas in the United States. It will focus on a series of psychological factors associated with suicide. These include thwarted belongingness (e.g., being excluded from family events) and perceived burdensomeness (i.e., belief in making things worse for others). It will also document how two factors for suicide are uniquely related to LGBT youths’ developmental milestones (i.e., identity recognition and disclosure): “risk,” which includes threats, verbal and physical abuse, and “resilience,” which includes supportive environments, coping mechanisms, and personality characteristics.
“Our emphasis will be comparing LGBT youth who do and do not experience any suicidal behaviors, which can include suicidal thoughts, threats, and even attempts,” said Russell. “The knowledge we generate will allow us to more accurately assess LGBT youth at risk for suicidal behaviors, identify those risk factors that can be diminished at various developmental stages, and create preventive messaging and interventions that simultaneously increase protective factors, such as feeling more hopeful about the future, and reduce risk factors.”