The Grapevine

Trans Boys, Nonbinary Youth At Highest Risk For Suicide Attempts

It is known that transgender teens are at higher risk of attempting suicide compared to cisgender teens. In their new findings, researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) go one step further to find out which subgroup of trans teens were at highest risk of suicidal behaviors.

The study titled "Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior" was published in the journal Pediatrics on Sept. 11.

The researchers analyzed data from a national survey which focuses on the attitudes and behaviors of adolescents. More than 120,000 teens were asked if they had ever had ever attempted suicide as a part of the survey.

They were also asked to categorize themselves into one of the six categories of gender identity — cisgender male, cisgender female, transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary, and “unsure,” which meant the individual was questioning their gender identity.

Overall, around 14 percent of all participants reported having attempted suicide at least once. A clear majority of participants identified as cisgender with only 202 teenagers not identifying as such. 

Within this group, researchers found, the transgender males reported the highest rate of attempted suicide at 50.8 percent. Figures concerning the nonbinary participants were also highlighted as 42 percent of this group reported some form of self-harm within the past year.

It was not clear why transgender males (characterized by a female-to-male transition) were at highest risk. But researchers speculated that it may be related to females being at higher risk to attempt suicide than males among cisgender youth. Given that this group is assigned female at birth, social factors may play a role and contribute to the elevated risk.

The findings also highlight a need to conduct more research on nonbinary youth, a relatively under-studied group. Individuals who fall into this group do not identify as exclusively masculine or feminine. 

"Nonbinary youth are putting themselves out there every day as not being read by society as male or female, and there hasn't been much research on this population, but we expect that they're probably experiencing the highest levels of discrimination or victimization from their peers and from communities, based on their gender presentation," said lead author Russell Toomey, an associate professor in the Norton School for Family and Consumer Sciences at UA.

The study also examined the role of other factors such as race and ethnicity, parents' education levels, where the teens grew up, etc. Being a racial/ethnic minority was associated with a higher suicide risk in cisgender youth, but this trend was not seen in transgender youth.  

"This is consistent with some other recent research that has shown that perhaps identifying and experiencing both marginalized racial and ethnic identities, and gender identities, may confer protection," Toomey explained. "For example, a youth may learn how to cope with marginalization based on one of their identities, and that helps them cope at the intersection of multiple identities."

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.