LGBTQ Agenda: Queer Latino youth have heightened risk of suicidality, study finds

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday October 31, 2023
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Ronita Nath, Ph.D., is vice president of research at The Trevor Project, which recently released a report on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx youth. Photo: From X
Ronita Nath, Ph.D., is vice president of research at The Trevor Project, which recently released a report on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latinx youth. Photo: From X

A study of LGBTQ Hispanic and Latino young people found that they were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts than young people of other ethnicities — and struggled with accessing mental health care.

The report — "The Mental Health and Well-Being of Latinx LGBTQ Young People" published by West Hollywood-based The Trevor Project — also found that those who reported supportive environments and stronger connections to their cultures had lowered risks.

Ronita Nath, Ph.D., vice president of research at The Trevor Project, told the Bay Area Reporter that the agency wanted to compile the data because "this is a group of young people with unique intersectional identities and experiences that are often underrepresented in research."

The Trevor Project focuses on suicide prevention efforts among queer youth.

The report states that the data was collected as part of a study of 28,000 people, aged 13-24, who responded to social media ads. Of those, 6,867 reported being Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, or Latine and so the study was able to compare this sample's responses with those who did not identify as such.

Nath said that the key finding of the study is that within the past year 44% of the sample reported seriously considering, and 16% of the sample reported attempting, suicide. Those percentages were 41% and 14% for LGBTQ youth generally.

"Similar to other mental health indicators, there were disparities across gender identity and age," the study stated. "Latinx transgender and nonbinary young people reported more than two times the rate of attempting suicide in the past year (21%) compared to cisgender Latinx LGBQ young people (9%). Similar to seriously considering suicide in the past year, Latinx LGBTQ young people ages 13 to 17 reported higher rates of attempting suicide in the past year (19%) compared to Latinx young people ages 18 to 24 (11%)."

Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles, told the B.A.R. that "obviously the numbers are not surprising to many of us," and hopes lawmakers will allocate funding for that might help.

"We already know the issues that our community has experienced just on the day-to-day work that we do, but having an actual report that reflects the needs of our community and the unfortunate situation of our community is really great because it brings light to the need," Salcedo said. "Hopefully policymakers will understand there has to be an intentional investment to not just lower but hopefully eradicate the numbers that are presented."

Harry Colon, the senior director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for The Trevor Project, stated, "This intersectionality of identities can create a complex web of discrimination and exclusion within both Latinx-centric and LGBTQ-centric communities."

"One of the primary barriers we face is the cultural stigma surrounding our sexual orientation or gender identity," Colon stated. "In many Latinx households and communities, traditional values and norms still hold strong, perpetuating a deep-rooted prejudice against non-heteronormative identities. This can lead to a lack of acceptance, rejection, and even outright hostility from family members, friends, or religious institutions.

"The fear of losing familial and community support can prevent us from seeking the help we need or expressing our authentic selves," Colon added.

The survey also found 70% reported symptoms of anxiety in the last two weeks, compared to 67% of LGBTQ youth generally, and 59% reported depression (the percentage for LGBTQ youth generally was not stated.)

Nath said that "racism could be a contributing factor." Twenty-one percent of those who reported discrimination due to race or ethnicity reported a suicide attempt in the past year, compared to 13% of those who did not. Discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, and attempts to change these through the widely debunked process known as conversion therapy also tracked with higher rates of suicidality, the study found.

Thirty-nine percent of the sample reported discrimination based on race or ethnicity, 55% reported discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 11% discrimination on the basis of immigration status.

"More than one-third of Latinx LGBTQ youth were worried about themselves or a family member facing detainment or deportation," Nath said.

While 83% of the sample reported desiring mental health care, 60% reported not being able to access it, compared to 56% of those not in the sample.

"When asked about the barriers preventing them from receiving desired mental health care, nearly half of Latinx LGBTQ young people (49%) said they were afraid to discuss their mental health issues with someone else," the study stated. "Other commonly reported barriers included not wanting to get parental permission (44%), fears of not being taken seriously (42%), concerns about affordability (40%), and doubts about the effectiveness of the treatment (35%)."

Nath said that "strong connection to cultural identity can be a protective factor," and that those who said that their roots were "an important part of who they were" had a lower risk of suicidality. The study stated that the reduction in suicide risk was 24%. Those with supportive parents and access to affirming spaces also reported less suicidality.

Nath said that the study used the term "Latinx" as a way to be inclusive to transgender and nonbinary communities, but that next time the nonprofit will ask participants what term they'd prefer. As a gender-neutral alternative to Latino, "Latinx" has been criticized in part because the Spanish language does not have an "x" suffix. In Latin America, "Latine" has been lifted up as an alternative ( as it is more easily pronounced in Spanish.

If you are having a crisis, San Francisco Suicide Prevention's 24-hour crisis line is (415) 781-0500. Its HIV Nightline is (415) 434-2437 or 1-800-273-2437. For the 24-hour crisis text line, text (415) 200-2920. For more information, click here. People can also call 988, the national suicide and mental health crisis line.

LGBTQ young people can contact The Trevor Project here or call its toll-free crisis line at 1-866-488-7386.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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