LGB high schoolers are more likely than their straight peers to feel sad or hopeless, or attempt suicide

BlogHealthJul 1 2018

In 2017, high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) were twice as likely as their straight peers to report feeling sad or hopeless—and four times as likely to have attempted suicide. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey data show that 63 percent of LGB high schoolers reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2017, compared with 28 percent of those who identified as straight. Meanwhile, 23 percent of LGB high schoolers attempted suicide, compared with 5 percent of their straight peers. The survey asked students whether “heterosexual (straight),” “bisexual,” “gay or lesbian,” or “not sure” best described them; it did not ask whether youth identified as transgender.

Overall, in 2017, 32 percent of youth in grades 9 through 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless, and 7 percent attempted suicide. Similar data on attempted suicide and sad and hopeless feelings among LGB high school students were also reported in 2015; however, it is not possible to identify trends because only two years of data have been reported.


LGB high schoolers are more likely than their straight peers to feel sad or hopeless, or attempt suicide

Share of high school students who reported feeling sad and hopeless and/or attempted suicide in 2017, by sexual identification and overall

Source: Youth Risk Behaviors Survey System, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released 2018

There have been concerns raised about the potential for data error here (e.g., “mischievous respondents”) that potentially skew these data points.

Identifying as a sexual minority does not necessarily put youth at higher risk for depression or suicide. However, compared to their straight peers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth are more likely to face a combination of complex factors that, in turn, put them at higher risk for depression and suicide. Experiences of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create stressful environments for sexual minority youth. They experience substantially higher levels of bullying than their non-LGBTQ peers, with transgender youth facing the most hostile school climates.

Research suggests that schools can foster well-being among students who identify as LGBTQ by adopting evidence-based curricula, programs, and services that explicitly promote their health and well-being. This includes implementing activities such as gay-straight alliances and sexual education that address the needs of sexual minority youth. Schools can also adopt anti-bullying policies that specifically prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation. In fact, making schools safer places for LGBTQ youth tends to make them more positive places for all youth.