Youth Suicide: Current Trends and the Path to Prevention
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LGBTQIA+ youth are under attack across the nation. Legislators are taking away their rights and seeking to invalidate their identities. Violence against transgender communities is growing, and politicians are banning youth from accessing medical care and services that have been proven to protect their mental health.
These actions threaten the lives of trans and nonbinary youth across the country.
Here’s what we know for certain about mental health: It improves when people are seen and supported and feel like part of a community. It declines when they are excluded, and it plummets when they are subjected to discrimination and violence.
It is well documented that trans youth who do not have supportive home, school, or community environments are at a higher risk of suicide. One in five trans youth attempted suicide in 2022, and trans and nonbinary youth have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression, and self-harm compared to their cisgender queer peers. Black trans youth have even higher rates of self-harm, and a quarter reported attempting suicide in the past year.
The Jed Foundation exists to protect mental health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults, and, as such, we condemn all discrimination and violence against transgender youth. Acceptance and support—which significantly reduce the risk of suicide in trans youth—are the antidote. We urge parents, educators, and legislators to join us in taking action to protect and support transgender and nonbinary youth.
Supporting transgender and nonbinary youth can happen in big and small ways, and both are important for their mental health. With the ongoing anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, it’s important to remember that all transgender people are feeling the negative impacts even if the news does not directly impact the transgender people you know. Transgender people are scared and exhausted, and they need the help of allies.
Here are direct ways you can help:
Research shows that family and school support of transgender and nonbinary youth can significantly improve their emotional well-being and reduce their suicide risk. LGBTQIA+ youth in supportive home and school environments have lower rates of depression. Even with the difficulties they face in society, trans youth who have been supported have similar rates of mental health issues as their cisgender peers.
The simple act of validating the identities of trans youth enables them to feel safer. It can be done by asking for someone’s pronouns or name, and then using them. You will likely make mistakes as you adjust to and practice using new pronouns, but acknowledging and correcting your mistakes shows effort and genuine support.
In the past year, trans communities have faced high rates of violence. The Human Rights Campaign documented 34 murders of trans people last year, along with six more so far in 2023. Of those deaths, 81 percent were Black trans women. Nearly 40 percent of trans youth reported being physically harmed because of their gender identity.
Transgender youth need to be protected from emotional and verbal violence as well. Physical violence is a reality for many trans people, but they are more often subjected to hateful online bullying, religious conversion therapy, and rejection from family members.
One way to protect trans and nonbinary youth from violence is through legislation that makes discrimination illegal, protects their right to gender-affirming care, and supports them in their identities at school. LGBTQIA+ individuals in states with stronger legal protections have better overall mental health, and the adolescent suicide rates in these states are lower.
We also need to stand against the climate of hostility that fuels violence. That means having uncomfortable conversations with friends and family members. It also means insisting educators, coaches, and others who work with young people are offered and attend inclusivity training.
Access to gender-affirming care, which includes social, psychological, or medical interventions used to support gender identity, is vital for the health of transgender youth. It was deemed a medically necessary intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics, but it’s becoming harder for trans youth to access or feel safe using.
Nearly half of U.S. states have introduced or passed legislation attempting to restrict or prohibit gender-affirming care for trans youth. Some bans have been put on hold by state courts, but the fear that health care may be taken away at any moment remains. In 2022, 93 percent of trans youth reported worrying about these laws, indicating that they cause psychological distress even when they don’t directly affect some trans youth. That distress will only grow, given the number of bans states have enacted in the first few months of 2023.
Some bans have even forced families to leave their homes searching for a state that will provide better care and safety for their children. The policymakers who promote these bans claim the actions protect children’s welfare, but the evidence shows the opposite. Denying young people their identities, making them vulnerable to discrimination and violence, and withholding life-saving medical care actively harms the health and safety of trans and nonbinary youth.
Schools have significant power to create supportive spaces. By implementing just a few key initiatives, they can make trans students feel safe and welcome, which positively impacts their mental health and helps prevent suicide.
Everyone has a part to play in creating a more inclusive and welcoming community. Parents, caregivers, and educators should push back against hateful and untrue anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and legislation while advocating for and supporting policies that protect trans youth rights. Other direct ways to help:
Mental health improves when people are seen and supported. We hope you will join us in protecting and supporting trans and nonbinary youth.
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.