This was among the findings of a group of authors including C&I colleagues Alexandra Pitman, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, and David Osborn, Consultant Psychiatrist.
The group also found that bisexual, lesbian and gay people were more likely to report having engaged in non-suicidal self-harm at a given point in their lives than heterosexuals.
However, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people were no more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexuals.
The researchers carried out their study using two household mental health surveys of a total of 10,443 English adults (aged 16-64 years). The surveys—the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey for England for 2007 and 2014—are representative of the country’s population.
Alexandra, David, and peers at University College London (UCL) looked at whether there was any association between identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and having had suicidal thoughts in the past year, attempted suicide in the past year and ever having self-harmed without this being a suicide attempt (non-suicidal self-harm).
The authors also tested whether identifying as a particular gender, being bullied, being discriminated against based on sexual orientation, or completing the survey in 2007 versus 2014 had an impact on the results.
The group analysed the responses to the following questions, contained within the 2007 and 2014 surveys:
- Have you ever thought of taking your life, even though you would not actually do it? If so, when did this last occur?
- Have you ever made an attempt to take your life, by taking an overdose of tablets or in some other way? If so, when did this last occur?
- Have you ever deliberately harmed yourself but not with the intention of killing yourself?
In the publication of their study, the authors found that compared with heterosexuals, the prevalence of past-year suicidal thoughts was significantly elevated in lesbian/gay individuals, and the prevalence of lifetime non-suicidal self-harm was significantly elevated in lesbian/gay and bisexual individuals.
“However, we found no elevated risk of past-year suicide attempt in any individual sexual minority group compared with heterosexuals once accounting for common mental disorders.”
In other words, the people who answered the survey who also had a common mental disorder (depression or an anxiety disorder) were no more likely to have attempted suicide if they were lesbian/gay or bisexual.
Having a common mental disorder, however, did increase the likelihood of lesbian/gay people having had suicidal thoughts or having experienced self-harm (and bisexuals in the case of the latter), as did being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, or bullied.
Neither gender nor answering the study 2014 as opposed to 2007 affected how likely it was that someone completing the study had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year, or self-harm in their lifetime.
In their conclusion, the authors highlight how suicidal thinking and self-harm was still more common among lesbian/gay and bisexual adults in 2014 compared to 2007 “despite the range of measures taken to protect the rights of LGB people” in the years between the two surveys.
Therefore, according to the authors “more research is needed to understand […] how society can prevent the emergence of suicidal thoughts and self-harm in LGB groups and how health services might better meet their needs”.