Researchers have published a new study in CMAJ wherein they have revealed that transgender and nonbinary teens are at much higher risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their cisgender peers.
In age group of 15 to 24 in Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults. Sexual minority youth — those attracted to the same gender or multiple genders or who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer — are also at increased risk of mental health issues, suicidal ideation (thoughts) and suicide attempts.
As the risk of thoughts of suicide and attempts is not well studied in transgender and nonbinary youth, researchers analyzed data from the national 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth to expand the evidence base. The sample included 6800 adolescents aged 15–17 years, most of whom (99.4%) were cisgender, meaning they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, and 0.6% were transgender, meaning they identify as a gender different from that assigned at birth. The majority (78.6%) of respondents were heterosexual, 14.7% were attracted to multiple genders, 4.3% were unsure of their attraction, 1.6% were girls attracted to girls, and 0.8% were boys attracted to boys.
Overall, 14% of teens experienced suicidal ideation within the previous year, and 6.8% had previously attempted suicide. Transgender youth were 5 times more likely to think about suicide and 7.6 times more likely to have ever attempted suicide than cisgender youth.
The researchers also found that the proportion of teens who reported some level of attraction to more than one gender was much higher than reported in previous studies. This may be because this survey assessed attraction to different genders rather than self-reported sexual identity, or it may reflect lessening stigma around bisexuality. Notably, this group was more than twice as likely to have thought about suicide.
Overall, 4.3% of adolescents reported being uncertain of their sexual attraction, known as “questioning.”
The association between suicidality and being a sexual or gender minority was partially explained by bullying or cyberbullying experienced by those teens.
The study’s findings are similar to those from the only other nationally representative study on the topic, which reported a fivefold increased risk of suicide attempts among transgender adolescents in New Zealand.