Study: Incarcerated LGBTQ youth at high risk of suicide

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A new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that LGBTQ youth are disproportionally represented in juvenile correctional facilities. The majority of LGBTQ youth held in custody are girls (64%) and youth of color (72%), and they face a significantly greater risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and self-harm.
 
Using data from the Minnesota Student Survey, a statewide population survey of youth, researchers from UCLA, Vanderbilt, Brown, and Yale Universities examined the mental health experiences of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ youth in juvenile correctional facilities and public schools. Results show that compared to straight, cisgender youth in public schools, incarcerated LGBTQ youth were twice as likely to think about suicide, six times more likely to attempt suicide, and nearly four times more likely to engage in self-harm. 
 
Among incarcerated youth, LGBTQ youth had a greater risk of suicide and self-harm than their straight, cisgender peers.
 
“LGBTQ youth start with more stressful experiences as children, which lead to adverse mental health outcomes. But rather than being cared for, they end up in juvenile correctional facilities in larger numbers than non-LGBTQ youth,” said study co-author llan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “These youth must manage the stress of a carceral setting while also navigating sexual and gender minority identities, which can increase exposure to violence, bullying, and isolation.”
 
KEY FINDINGS

  • LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in Minnesota correctional facilities: 29% of youth in correctional facilities identify as LGBTQ compared to 20% of youth in public schools.
  • Girls and youth of color were overrepresented among incarcerated LGBTQ youth: 64% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth were girls compared to 48% of straight, cisgender youth in high schools, and 28% of incarcerated LGBTQ youth were white compared to 73% of straight, cisgender youth in high schools.
  • All youth in correctional facilities as well as LGBTQ youth in public schools showed an elevated risk of suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and self-harm compared to straight, cisgender youth in public schools. However, incarcerated LGBTQ youth had substantially greater risk.
  • Compared to straight, cisgender youth and LGBTQ youth in high schools, LGBTQ youth in correctional facilities reported the highest prevalence of suicide ideation (42%), suicide attempts (38%), and self-harm (58%).
  • More than half (54%) of incarcerated LGBTQ youth reported experiencing four or more adverse childhood experiences, including various forms of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. In contrast, 6% of non-LGBTQ youth in public schools reported the same.

“Interventions are needed to reduce pathways to incarceration for LGBTQ youth and to buffer the harmful effects of adverse childhood experiences,” said lead author Kirsty A. Clark, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University. “Supportive policies that lessen exposure to minority stressors and increase coping skills in the face of victimization are warranted.”
 
Please contact Rachel Dowd at [email protected] for a full copy of the study.

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