Pierre J. Tremblay
at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide
Prevention, Banff, Alberta, October 11-14, 1995, (c) Oct 1995. First made
available on the Internet on January 19, 1996.
Summary of the
Risk for Suicide on the Basis of Sexual Orientation Noted in Books on Youth
Books about the adolescent suicide problem have a history of being silent
about the probability that GLB (gay, lesbian, and bisexual) youth would
be at risk for attempted suicide and possibly suicide. Suicide Among
Youth: Perspectives on Risk and Prevention (1989) was silent on the
subject (96). Suicide Among the Young (1984) only has a few references
as isolated case histories (98). By 1991, however, Adolescent Suicide
Assessment and Intervention contained the following information. "Harry
(1989)  notes for example that homosexuals
are 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than are heterosexuals
and that risk for an attempt is greatest during the period of coming to
terms with 'coming out' typically about the age of 18-19" (91:98).
[This is outdated information related to the Bell & Weinberg (1978)
study. According to Remafedi(1991) (and others), the high risk age would
now be 14-16.]
The 1994 book, Suicide and Homicide Among Adolescents, also noted
that homosexuality was a factor in the youth suicide problem. "Sixth, gender
identity issues, including homosexuality, also appear to represent a risk
factor for youth suicide (Remafedi et al. 1991; Judson, 1993)" (95:16).
The factor is also noted in the table Risk Factor for Suicide (95:115),
but explanations are not given concerning why homosexuality, or even gender
identity issues, are implicated in the youth suicide problems. Of the two
references given to enlighten the reader about this problem, the "Judson"
reference is listed as Research proposal. Unpublished manuscript, 1993."
Some exceptions to the rule occurring before 1991 nonetheless exist.
Growing Up Dead: A Hard Look at Why Adolescents Commit Suicide (1978)
contained a chapter titled "Colour Me Gay." The author, however, was a
journalist, not a suicidologist. Herbert Hendin, a suicidologist, did have
a chapter Suicide and Homosexuality in Suicide in America (1982).
Clinical data was given to support the idea that homosexuals would be at
greater risk for suicide, but little else; not even citing the Bell &
Weinberg (1978) study which suggested that GLB people, and especially GLB
youth, were at risk for suicide attempts (92:107-124).
In Hendin's 1995 version of the same book, the chapter on homosexuality
had changed somewhat, especially at the beginning. Additional information
was presented suggesting that GLB people, and possibly GLB youth, may be
a higher risk for suicide. Little effort was made, however, to present
a convincing argument in this respect. This was expected, however, because
Hendin's 1987 and 1991 papers on youth suicide (1,
93) did not mention GLB youth
and their probable high risk for having suicide-related problems.
Hendin (1995) cites the Rich et al.(1986) study as concluding that "the
rate of suicide among homosexuals is not greater than that for heterosexuals"
(94:129), but he recognized that the researchers
probably did not identify all homosexuals in their sample of suicide victims.
(See information related to this study and related conclusions made in
this paper.) He nonetheless goes on to note, as was done in 1982, that
his "own work has provided some evidence that homosexuals are overly represented
in suicide attempts" (94:131).
Canada's official publication on suicide, Suicide in Canada (1987),
did not mention anything related to homosexuality, and the same occurred
in the unpublished updated version of the same book which became available
in 1993 (99, 100). I
was troubled by the omission, contacted Dick Ramsay (Associate Professor,
Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary) early in 1994, and expressed
my concerns. As a result of this, given the information presented in the
first edition of The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide
problem, and in the greatly expanded second edition (107),
an addition was made to the text. The 1995 edition of Suicide in Canada
now contains a subsection titled "Gay men and lesbian" in the section High-Risk
In October, 1995, a Supplement of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior,
Research Issues in Suicide and Sexual Orientation, was published.
It was the result of a workshop which had been held Atlanta in June, 1994
(102:1). "The workshop was convened," not because
Suicidologists really wanted to address this issue, so it seems, but because
it was a "response to public and Congressional inquiries regarding rates
of suicide among gay and lesbian people, and to repeated media reports
of a purportedly elevated risk of suicidal behavior in this population"
(102:1). Although interesting papers were published
and needed research recommendations were made, the ultimate conclusion
was that "numerous limitations currently prevent drawing accurate conclusions
about the potential relationship between suicide and sexual orientation
(102:2, 103). Recommendations
were not made with respect to having suicide prevention/intervention programs
begin addressing GLB youth suicide issues. At best, professionals in these
fields were left with the "out" most have used to avoid helping these youth.
They were told that nothing is conclusive about the relationship of youth
suicide problems and sexual orientation.