Text last updated 8 January 2017
Links last updated 21 February 2017
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What this is about
How suicide is a particular problem for gay men.
The full scale of suicide among the gay and lesbian population is only beginning to emerge. Most attention is currently focused, rightly, on the number of young gay men who attempt suicide because of their sexuality, but evidence is also slowly emerging that there may also be related issues for older gay men.
The Stonewall 2012 Survey discovered that 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men had attempted to take their own life, compared to only 0.4% of men in general. In the 16- to 24-year-old age group, 6% of gay and bisexual men had attempted to take their own life compared to less than 1% of men in general.
There are similar findings for self-harming. 7% of gay and bisexual men had deliberately harmed themselves compared to only 3% of men in general, and in the 16- to 24-year-old age group, 15% of gay and bisexual men had harmed themselves compared to 7% of men in general.
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On 8 May 2013 The Independent reported that more than 300 people a day are admitted to hospital for self-harming, a rise of almost 50 per cent over a decade ago. Self poisoning (taking overdose of tablets) mainly affects younger patients. Charity workers for SANE noted that roughly a third of patients attending Accident and Emergency for self-harming are released without any follow-up appointment.
In May 2013, the death of Mark Fear highlighted the need for further research into suicide among later age groups in the gay community. It is already well documented that the suicide rate for men generally increases with age.
In January 2014 a fresh survey reported by The Indendent found even more alarming figures: half of young gay people have suffered mental health issues, and 40 per cent have considered suicide.
In August 2016 the New York Times reported the first survey of gay, bisexual and lesbian high school teenagers in the US. It found that 40 percent reported that they had seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.
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What can we do?
As activists we must fight this epidemic through reaching out, understanding, empathising and supporting people. We must do more to retain interest; instead of people coming and joining in once or twice then disconnecting, we must help them to integrate and take part, becoming long term members of and contributors to our community and organisations. We may need to follow up non-attendance. Where people are striving to reach their goals we must take an interest, mentor and encourage. We have already lost too many gay and lesbian people to suicide and we must resolve to do more to fight this scourge.
Very little is known of the incidence of mental health issues and suicide in the trans and bisexual communities. Gay Activist understands that members of these communities are at least just as badly affected as gay men and lesbians are, and that the gender reassignment process itself can create mental health issues.
If you yourself have been suicidal, read on; you may recognise in this article some clues about your own feelings which will help you to deal with them, and there are some resources at the end of this article.
What are the facts?
What are the factors that cause so many of our community to kill themselves?
Young men and women, generally
The suicide rate for young men has doubled since the early 80s, while for women it has almost halved.
12 young men kill themselves every week in the UK. Young men are more likely to die by their own hand than be killed in a car crash. Only 39 per cent of suicidal young men would consider phoning the Samaritans. 67 per cent of suicidal young men say they have nowhere to turn for emotional help.
Suicidal young men are four times more likely to smoke and ten times more likely to take an illegal drug to relieve stress. More than one in three young men would ‘smash something up’ instead of talking about their feelings. Less than one in five young men would ask their father for emotional support.
78 per cent of depressed and suicidal young men have experienced bullying. 69 per cent of suicidal young men have experienced violence from an adult. 50 per cent of suicidal young men have been in trouble with the police compared to 17 per cent of the non-suicidal.
A suicide in a family makes the remaining family members three times more likely to also consider and attempt suicide.
Gay young men and women
Lesbian young people are up to six times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Young gay men are 30 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts: some have made as many as nine unsuccessful attempts to kill themselves. The highest rates of suicide are among those who are isolated from support.
US News reported that teenage gay people who have been rejected by their parents are far more likely to self-harm, take hard drugs and attempt suicide than teenagers who are wholeheartedly loved and supported by their parents.
Men and women, generally
Suicide is far higher – and rising – among unskilled men than among professional men. Men are more likely to kill themselves if they are from ethnic minorities, unmarried or gay. Men who have been in prison are more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not. More women than men attempt suicide each year, but are less likely to succeed. Women tend to choose overdose, which can usually be treated in hospital, while men tend to choose dramatic and violent methods of killing themselves. Suicide is now the biggest single cause of death of men aged 25 to 34, who are more than five times likely to take their lives as women of the same age, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Each year about 3,600 men take their lives, compared to 1,200 women.
The situation for gay men is even more acute. 25 to 60 per cent of gay people seek counselling at some stage in their lives, reports Counselling Directory. Gay and bisexual men face a higher risk of considering and attempting suicide, and of killing themselves. Mind’s researchers interviewed nearly 3,000 gay and bisexual men between 1996 and 1998. They say that 73 per cent of gay men have experience of stress. In 35 per cent stress was due to their sexual orientation. 21 per cent of the men said they had previously made a plan to kill themselves, 12 per cent had attempted suicide, and a further 8 per cent had considered suicide because of their sexual orientation.
Older men, generally
Older men have the highest suicide rates in the UK. Suicide in older men is strongly associated with depression, physical pain or illness, living alone, and feelings of hopelessness and guilt. There is a lack of medical resources for older men. Older men also experience some specific hormonal, physiological and chemical changes sometimes referred to as the male menopause generally between the ages of 40 and 55, though they can occur as early as 35 or as late as 65, and can affect all aspects of a man’s life, including their mental health.
To summarise, the main factors causing higher incidence of suicide are:
Isolation and loneliness; the death of your life partner; inability to talk about their problems to anyone; the loss of a role in society; ill health; discomfort of the health service due to experiences of homophobia, and fear of being out with your doctor; distrust of counselling services with the expectation of homophobia; problems coming to terms with your sexuality or other aspects of your life and circumstances; a lack of family support and understanding; the fear of or experience of perceived or real failure; internalised homophobia; and having been prosecuted for criminal activity.
Samaritans helpline: 08457 90 90 90 (24 hours)
For local and national support groups and information services for specific problems look in your Yellow Pages Directory (in the first few pages of the directory)
World Mental Health Day is 10 October each year.
Acts of Parliament
Undated: Suicide.org: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Suicide
Undated: The Trevor Project: Facts about suicide
Ulster University News, 15 Dec 1999: Ulster’s Young Gay men 30 Times More Likely to Attempt Suicide
Guardian, 5 March 2001: Help at last for suicidal young men
US News, Dec 29 2008: Rejection of Gay Teens Linked to Later Troubles
Guardian, 6 October 2010: ‘I’d hoped that coming out as transsexual might temper my anxiety’
Independent, 13 Feb 2011: Suicide risk rises after criminal encounters: study
Independent, 12 Jan 2014: Mental health crisis looms for gay teenagers
New York Times, 12 Aug 2016: (USA) Gay and lesbian teenagers violence survey
Los Angeles Times, 21 February 2017: Same-sex marriage laws helped reduce suicide attempts by gay, lesbian and bisexual teens, study says