Exploring and understanding young LGBT+ people's suicidal thoughts and attempts in Scotland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst young people aged 15-29. Amongst this young population it is estimated that lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT+) young people are more likely than their cisgender (non-trans), heterosexual peers to think about and attempt suicide. In the UK there has been a paucity of research on this topic, and despite Scotland having higher suicide rates than England & Wales, UK-based research seeking to understand LGBT+ youth suicide is yet to include Scotland. Furthermore, existing research has focussed on the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts amongst LGBT+ young people, demonstrating the disproportionate burden of suicide amongst this population. However, in doing so it has paid less attention to why this disparity exists. This research seeks to address these limitations in our understanding.

Aims: I used a multi-disciplinary approach to better understand how young LGBT+ people make sense of their experiences of suicidal distress, questioning what they identified as the pertinent contributory and protective factors, as well as their ideas for future LGBT+ youth suicide prevention. Methods: To explore these questions in-depth, I undertook qualitative, semi-structured, conversational interviews with a community sample of 24LGBT+ young people aged 16-24 with lived experience of suicidal distress from across Scotland. The interviews were then analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Findings: Participants identified a range of LGBT+ specific and youth-specific factors that interacted, contributing to and protecting against suicide. Adverse childhood experiences, bullying and social isolation, a cis-heteronormative community climate, concerns and challenges coming out, and difficulties in education were seen as contributory factors, to which suicide was often conceptualised as a response. For many underlying this were feelings of entrapment, defeat, burdensomeness, and a lack of belonging, and it was in response to this that participants in this study began to experience suicidal distress. Staying safe from suicide therefore often relied on dismantling these feelings, both through accessing support and gaining a sense of social connection. Relatedly, suggestions for reducing LGBT+ youth suicide in the future centred upon improving mental health support and challenging queerphobic stigma.

Conclusion: The cumulative weight of both LGBT+ specific and youth specific contributory factors meant that many participants in this study articulated a lack of spaces in which they could safely exist. This appeared to be exacerbated by an ontological rejection of participants as LGBT+ people by those around them, which could often feel irresolvable. Consequently, future suicide prevention needs to focus both on individual psychological support for LGBT+ young people who think about suicide, as well as social interventions that tackle queer phobia at its roots.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
  • McDaid, Lisa , Supervisor, External person
  • O'Connor, Rory, Supervisor, External person
  • Mitchell, Rich , Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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