LGBTQ+ youth experiencing trauma symptoms face greater suicide risk, research shows

Story at a glance


  • LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than non-LGBTQ+ young people to report high levels of trauma symptoms, according to a report published Thursday by The Trevor Project.

  • About 25 percent of LGBTQ+ youth that reported high levels of trauma also reported a past-year suicide attempt, according to the report.

  • Disproportionate levels of trauma symptoms were reported by transgender and nonbinary youth, a group that has been largely targeted by recent legislation.

LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than their heterosexual or cisgender peers to report high levels of trauma symptoms including hyper-vigilance and avoidance, putting them at greater risk of suicide, according to new research from The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention group for LGBTQ+ young people.

In a report published Monday, more than 30 percent of LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 reported high levels of trauma symptoms. Another 60 percent said they had experienced low to moderate levels of trauma, and just 4 percent reported never having experienced any trauma symptoms at all.

Roughly 25 percent of LGBTQ+ youth that reported high levels of trauma also reported a past-year suicide attempt – more than three times higher than those who said they experienced moderate, low or no trauma.

Trauma symptoms were significantly associated with past-year suicide attempts across race, ethnicity, age, gender identity and sexual orientation, according to the report, which uses data from another Trevor Project study published earlier this year that surveyed just under 34,000 LGBTQ+ young people in the U.S. about their mental health.


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Trevor Project researchers said experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence against LGBTQ+ youth can contribute to trauma symptoms, which can include feeling scared, anxious or unsafe. A June report from the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group GLAAD found that roughly 70 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans face regular discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, an increase over the last two years.

The impact of recent legislation that targets LGBTQ+ people and their fundamental rights also cannot be discounted, Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist at The Trevor Project, said Thursday.

“We must consider the harm that discriminatory policies – and the ugly rhetoric surrounding them – can have when it comes to the potential for traumatizing LGBTQ youth,” she said.

Hundreds of bills in states across the country have been introduced this year aiming to restrict how transgender Americans access health care and play sports and limit how LGBTQ+ issues and identities more generally are spoken about in places like public schools.

A January poll from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult found that more than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ young people believe recent state-led efforts to restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary people has negatively impacted their mental health.

Significantly more transgender and nonbinary youth reported high levels of trauma symptoms (44 percent) compared with cisgender LGBQ+ youth (25 percent), according to Thursday’s report.

Researchers said that signals that public health interventions aimed at suicide risk reduction should be gender-affirming to allow transgender, nonbinary or gender non-conforming youth “participate in treatment as their full selves.”

Programs should also include screening and treatment for symptoms of trauma, Trevor Project researchers wrote Thursday, and must be culturally salient to address disproportionate levels of trauma reported by LGBTQ+ youth of color.

Still, efforts to boost feelings of safety and security among LGBTQ+ youth should take precedence, researchers said, citing prior research that found that protective factors, such as resilience to cope with traumatic events, family acceptance and affirming environments can help improve youth mental health.

“While there is a greater need for both LGBTQ and cultural competencies in trauma-informed care, establishing a sense of safety for these youth is paramount.”