12 February 2015 13:55

Many LGBTQ young people who self-harm or consider suicide are in difficult circumstances because of hostility to their sexual orientation or gender identity, say researchers.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and questioning (LGBTQ) young people are four to seven times more likely to self-harm or feel suicidal compared to their heterosexual or non-trans peers.

A nationwide online survey is being launched by the Queer Futures research led by Dr Elizabeth McDermott at Lancaster University and funded by the Department of Health.

The study is asking LGBTQ young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years old what causes suicidal feelings and self-harm, and how support can be provided to prevent mental distress.

Dr McDermott found in the first stage of the study that many LGBTQ young people who are self-harming or thinking about suicide experience complex and distressing circumstances.

“Some of these include homophobia, biphobia or transphobia and being made to feel ashamed of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can cause them to feel as if they cannot tell anyone about what they’re feeling. Other factors like family arguments, illness, grief and friendship or relationship problems also contributed to participants’ distress.”

The first stage of the research also demonstrated that young people found it difficult to tell people about their emotional problems.

“Many of our participants explained that they didn’t want to disappoint people, they felt ashamed or like a failure, or they didn’t think anyone would care. This has important implications for understanding why young people do not ask for help when they’re experiencing emotional distress”.

Dr Victoria Rawlings, a senior researcher for the study, described the response to the first stage of research.

“We had an incredible reaction, with enquiries from young people all over the country offering to take part in an interview. What they told us about their experiences was brave, honest and insightful.”

Using the data from these interviews, the second stage of the research - a national online survey - will test some of their initial findings amongst a larger population of LGBTQ young people.

Dr Rawlings says the next phase is critical for finding more evidence about the experiences of LGBTQ young people.

“We hope that as many LGBTQ youth will take part as possible. Having a large number of LGBTQ youth tell us about their experiences means that we can be more confident that the findings we produce can be used to improve LGBTQ young people’s lives.”