$2.8M Grant to Fund LGBT Youth Suicide Risk Study

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have higher rates of suicidal behaviors than their heterosexual peers, studies have shown.
Oct. 11, 2011
Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
0 0 1 583 3326 University of Arizona 27 7 3902 14.0 96 800x600 Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

Researchers at New York University and the University of Arizona will study the causes behind suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, youth over a three-year period.

Their study, funded with a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, also focuses on interventions to lower the risk of suicide among LGBT teenagers and those in their early 20s.

"Study after study has found higher rates of suicidal behaviors among LGBT youth than for their heterosexual peers," said Arnold Grossman, a professor in the department of applied psychology at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the project's principal investigator.

"Other research has pointed to potential causes. For instance, compared to prior generations, today's LGBT youth are increasingly aware of, identifying and disclosing their sexual and gender identities earlier in life. As a result, they are more likely to be exposed to suicidal risk factors such as bullying, harassment, marginalization and victimization by family members and peers."

The study's co-investigator is Distinguished Professor and Endowed Chair Stephen Russell, who directs the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families at the UA's Norton School of Family and Consumer Studies.

Their research will follow, over a three-year period, more than 1,000 LGBT youth ages 15 to 21 in three metropolitan areas in the U.S.

It will focus on a series of psychological factors associated with suicide. These include thwarted belongingness (e.g. being excluded from family events) and perceived burdensomeness (i.e. the belief that they are making things worse for others). It also will document how two factors for suicide are uniquely related to LGBT youths' developmental milestones (i.e. identity recognition and disclosure): risk, which includes threats, verbal and physical abuse; and resilience, which includes supportive environments, coping mechanisms and personality characteristics.

"Our emphasis will be comparing LGBT youth who do and do not experience any suicidal behaviors, which can include suicidal thoughts, threats and even attempts," said Russell.

"The knowledge we generate will allow us to assess more accurately LGBT youth at risk for suicidal behaviors, identify those risk factors that can be diminished at various developmental stages, and create preventive messaging and interventions that simultaneously increase protective factors, such as feeling more hopeful about the future, and reduce risk factors."

The Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families serves as a catalyst for cross disciplinary research on children, youth and families at the UA. Its research initiatives address questions important to the development and well-being of contemporary children, youth and families, with the goal of improving basic understanding to enhance the lives of the people of Arizona and the world.

The John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, which is part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, currently consists of two divisions: family studies and human development, and retailing and consumer sciences. Both offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and are ranked among the best in the nation.

Together, they host four multidisciplinary research, outreach and education units: the Cooperative Extension, the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing and Consumer Sciences, the Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Finance Education and Research, and the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families.