Smells Like Teen Dispirit

A third of LGBT youths try to commit suicide, but most do not have mental disorders

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One out of three lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths have attempted suicide in their lifetime, but most LGBT teens do not experience mental illness.

The finding arrives in a report by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the first study to report the frequency of mental disorders in LGBT youths using the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). About 70 percent of LGBT youths do not meet criteria for any mental health disorders, including major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide attempts and conduct disorder.

For the study UIC researchers recruited 246 ethnically diverse LGBT participants and found that "these youth are doing very well and are not experiencing mental health problems," said Dr. Brian Mustanski, assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC and lead author of the study.  

The big question, researchers say, remains as to whether these teens are more likely to have mental disorders compared to other teens. Mustanski, a clinical psychologist and director of UIC's IMPACT Program, said the answer to that depends on who you're comparing them to. The youths in the study had a higher prevalence of mental disorders than youths in a national sample but were similar to urban, racial and ethnic minority youths.

Of the LGBT teens, nearly 10 percent met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 15 percent met criteria for major depression. About 6 percent had made a suicide attempt in the last year while a third of study participants had made one at some point in their life.

Bisexual youths had a lower prevalence of mental disorders than bisexual youths in other studies, contradicting previous research that suggested bisexual youths are more likely to have mental disorders.


The MECA Study (Methodology for Epidemiology of Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents) estimates nearly 8.4 million of U.S. children ages 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder associated with at least minimum impairment. Heterosexual youths comprise an estimated 7.5 million of these teens and children.

As LGBT youths are more likely to face bullying and discrimination in school, so are they more likely to feel the emotional pressure those situations bring. According to LAMBDA's Youth Outreach Web site, 25 percent of LGBT youths have severe drug and alcohol problems. GLBT youths are also two to three times more likely to attempt suicide, citing according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, which also found 30 percent of teen suicides are committed by gay or lesbian youths.

To combat these startling statistics, columnist Dan Savage has started the "It Gets Better" project, a compilation of testimonial videos on the Web featuring GLBT individuals who lead successful lives as adults after experiencing troubled years as adolescents. The site can be found at

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 1, 2010
Last Updated:
December 3, 2010