Research suggests transgender teens are at a higher risk of suicide


Life, Health

Teens that do not identify as exclusively male or female are at the greatest risk for attempting suicide.

The risk was lower for cisgender teens or those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth (Photo: Pixabay)

Washington: A recent research has shown that transgender adolescents are at greater risk for attempting suicide than cisgender teens that identify with the gender they are assigned at birth.

The study found that transmasculine adolescents, who were born female but identify as male, and teens that do not identify as exclusively male or female are at the greatest risk for attempting suicide.

Toomey, one of the authors of the study said, "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."

Toomey and his co-authors found that 50.8 percent of transmasculine adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 have attempted suicide at least once, while 41.8 percent of non-binary adolescents, those who don't identify as exclusively male or exclusively female, have attempted suicide. The next most at-risk adolescent groups were transfeminine, those who were born male but identify as female, at 29.9 percent, and those questioning their gender identity, at 27.9 percent.

The risk was lower for cisgender teens or those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Among females, 17.6 percent said they had attempted suicide, while the number for males was 9.8 percent.

Toomey's findings are based on a survey that focused on 40 developmental assets know to be associated with healthy development, as well as risk behaviors, such as depression and suicidal behaviors. Data was collected over a 36-month period between 2012 and 2015, and from 120,617 adolescents, most of who identified as cisgender.

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.

"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, but 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," Toomey said.

Toomey also found that sexual orientation exacerbated suicide risk for almost everyone in the survey. The only population whose risk didn't seem to be affected by sexual orientation was the nonbinary population.

"Nonbinary youth do not identify as totally masculine or totally feminine, so it complicates an understanding of sexual orientation, which is rooted in a binary, male-female understanding of gender. Thus, for these youth, the combination of gender and sexual orientation may be more complicated," Toomey said.

Toomey and his colleagues also examined the impact of other factors, including race and ethnicity, parents' educational attainment, and the types of communities where teens grow up, on suicide risk.

The team found that although cisgender teens who belonged to a racial or ethnic minority had a heightened suicide risk, race and ethnicity was not associated with higher suicide risk in transgender teens.

Toomey and his co-authors also found that some factors that seem to protect cisgender teens from suicide risk - such as having parents with a higher level of educational attainment or having grown up in a more urban versus rural community - do not have the same effect for transgender teens.

With suicide ranking as the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults ages 10 to 34 in the United States, and with research suggesting that between 28 and 52 percent of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lives, it is critical to better understand suicide behaviors across gender identities, Toomey said.

This is especially challenging since autopsy reports in the U.S. do not contain information on whether or not suicide victims are transgender, and parents may not know or wish to divulge that information, making it difficult to know how many transgender individuals actually die by suicide.

The full findings are present in the Journal of Pediatrics.