Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

Research Review

Higher Suicide Risk for LGBT Study; Being Out Is Healthier

A first-ever research study of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Nebraska has determined that the LGBT population has a significantly higher incidence of suicidal thoughts. Nearly 50% of the respondents indicated that they had serious suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

Conducted by researchers with the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative, the study provides a snapshot of the health and well-being of LGBT persons in Nebraska, a predominately rural state. It was headed by Christopher Fisher, PhD, an assistant professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

Fisher was assisted by two University of Nebraska at Omaha faculty members, Jay Irwin, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology, and Jason Coleman, PhD, MSPH, an assistant professor of health, physical education, and recreation, as well as several community-based organizations throughout Nebraska and western Iowa.

"We already know suicide attempts among LGBT youth are nearly three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts," says Irwin, who is a mental health expert. "But having nearly 50% of respondents indicate serious thoughts of suicide is quite high, even in light of other studies of LGBT populations."

Even more telling of the potential social stigma associated with being LGBT in Nebraska, Irwin says, is that serious thoughts of suicide were not limited to teens. "We found people who had seriously considered suicide in their 20s, again in their 40s, and then again in their 60s," he says.

Issues like suicide, smoking, sexual health, and even seeking healthcare were linked to social conditions that allow for LGBT to be "out" about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Fisher says.

"Almost across the board, we kept finding that persons who were more 'out of the closet' to family, friends, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances were more likely to be engaging in healthy behaviors," he says.

The study is timely, Fisher says, since two leading national research organizations—the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Medicine—are calling for more research to better understand the conditions that impact the health of LGBT Americans.

"What little research has happened with LGBT populations has occurred predominately in the big cities and on the coasts," Fisher says. "However, the issues facing LGBT in New York or Los Angeles are different than in the rural Midwest.

"Isolation, stigma, and lack of social outlets are experiences that continue to need to be addressed. We hope this report will give community organizations needed information to help improve the health and well-being of the people they serve."

— Source: University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health