Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Student Suicide

By McFarland, William P. | Professional School Counseling, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Student Suicide


McFarland, William P., Professional School Counseling


Professional school counselors have the ethical duty to serve all students in their schools including gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. All professional school counselors need to understand why this hidden minority is at a high risk for suicide in order to develop and implement interventions through a developmental guidance program. This article will explain the statistical profile of suicidal gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth; discuss the suicidal risk factors for this population; and propose preventive and responsive interventions for school counselors.

BACKGROUND

Several research studies have examined the connection between homosexuality and suicide. Harry (1983) concluded that young men and women during preadulthood, who behaved in ways that did not conform to their gender roles, were at significantly greater risk for suicidal feelings and attempts than those individuals who behaved in ways that conformed to their gender roles. He further noted that although departure from gender-appropriate behavior was more common among gays and lesbians, these behaviors were associated with suicidality among both heterosexuals and homosexuals. He also reported that early gender deviance was more predictive of suicidality among men than among women.

Schneider, Farberow, and Kruks (1989) explored the relationship between homosexuality and suicidal behavior, concluding that attempters, as compared to nonattempters, struggled with their homosexual identity earlier in adolescence. At the time of their first attempt, most of these attempters were aware of their homosexuality, but had not yet progressed to the development of a positive gay identity. Most attempters, feeling confused, depressed, or fearful, were still hiding their homosexuality. Others had come out but had been rejected by significant others in their lives. Lacking resources to cope with this rejection, suicide was chosen as a way to cope.

Studies have revealed various rates of suicidality among lesbians and gay men. In one study of 5,000 homosexual men and women, 40% of adult gay males and 39% of adult lesbians surveyed reported to have either attempted or seriously contemplated suicide (Jay & Young, 1979). Bell and Weinberg's (1978) study revealed that 35% of adult gay males and 38% of adult lesbians reported to have either seriously considered or attempted suicide with 25% of the lesbians and 20% of gay men reporting they had actually attempted suicide. Referring to the Bell and Weinberg study, Gibson (1989) noted that most of the suicide attempts were made at age 20 or younger and nearly one third occurred before age 17 or during their school-age years.

SUICIDE IN ALL YOUTH

Suicidal behavior by gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth is part of the broader issue of suicidal behavior in all youth. During the 30 years from 1950 to 1980, there was an increase of more than 170% in suicides by youth ages 15 to 24, while the suicide rate for all age groups increased only 20% (Centers for Disease Control, 1986). Recent statistics show that at least 5,000 youth now take their lives each year (Hoberman, 1989). The rate of suicide attempts to completions is much higher in this 15 to 24 age group than other age groups, with as many as 500,000 attempts annually (Gibson,1989).

SUICIDE AMONG SEXUAL MINORTY YOUTH

Gibson (1989), in the Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, reported that gay and lesbian adolescents were two to three times more likely than peers to attempt suicide and may account for as many as 30% of completed youth suicides each year. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth may comprise 1,500 of the 5,000 completed youth suicides each year. Other studies have reported that one-third of the homosexual adolescents in their research samples said they had attempted suicide, and many reported repeated attempts (Remafedi, 1987; Roesler & Deisher, 1972).

Remafedi, Farrow, and Deisher (1991) surveyed 137 gay and bisexual males, 14 to 21 years old. …

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