Black trans and non-binary youth are at a high risk of suicide, per new study

New data from The Trevor Project reveals one in four Black trans youth reported a suicide attempt in the past year

A new study reveals that one in four Black trans youth in the U.S reported a suicide attempt in the past year. In its wake, researchers are calling for more anti-racist and gender-affirming care services to be provided. 

The report, released Feb. 28 by the The Trevor Project—analyzed data from a survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ2S+ youth across the U.S. The research partially served as a way to fill a data gap—while there have been studies focused on trans and non-binary youth of colour, research has failed to examine the specific mental health experiences of Black trans and non-binary youth.

Not only did the study look at the rate of suicide attempts in this community, but also at rates of poor mental health, housing instability, victimization and attempts from others to change their sexual orientation. Researchers expressed deep concern about the results, calling the mental health of Black trans and non-binary youth a “public health crisis.” 

“These sobering data illustrate the importance of understanding intersectionality and the unique stressors that exist at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender identity,” Dr. Myeshia Price, director of Research Science at The Trevor Project, told Xtra

While the study found that Black trans and non-binary youth still deal with the same level of racism that Black cis “LGBQ” youth, Black trans and non-binary experience significantly higher rates of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Over three-quarters (77 percent) of Black trans and non-binary youth experienced discrimination related to their sexual orientation or gender identity, compared to just 56 percent of Black LGBQ cis youth.

Additionally, 40 percent of Black trans and non-binary youth had experienced physical threats or harm due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Sixty-eight percent of Black trans and non-binary youth had someone attempt to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity; 34 percent of these youth also reported experiencing homelessness, being kicked out or running away from home, as compared to 24 percent of Black cis LGBQ youth. 

The study also points out the extent to which gender-affirming social support can affect mental health outcomes for the demographic. The study found that Black trans and non-binary youth who said they received high social support from their families had 47 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year, while youth with similar support from their friends were associated with 39 percent lower odds of attempting suicide. 

However, relatively few reported receiving that crucial support from family—only 13 percent of Black trans youth reported high social support from family, while 72 percent received that support from friends. 

“The data really emphasizes that a lot of the poor mental health outcomes we’re seeing in this youth can be mitigated by more gender affirmation at home,” Price told Xtra.

 

Though this is the first research of its kind that directly focused on the specific intersection of Black trans and non-binary identities, it confirms recent studies showing the positive effects of gender-affirming care on the mental health of trans and non-binary youth. One recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that giving youth access to puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones was associated with 60 percent lower odds of depression and 73 percent lower odds of suicidality. 

Other previous research responding to the higher rates of poor mental health symptoms in Black and Latinx trans communities, also published in JAMA, emphasized the need for clinical mental health services to be cognizant of the specific experiences of these communities when providing care to them. 

In 2020, The Trevor Project reported that, though Black LGBTQ2S+ youth have similar levels of poor mental health outcomes compared to all LGBTQ2S+ youth, they are less likely to receive professional care. In the study released earlier this week, they emphasize the need to address this disparity. 

“Black families should be encouraged to support their trans and non-binary young people by interweaving overtly supportive messages around gender identity into their existing family support structure,” the report reads. 

The study also follows recent reported trends of increased suicidality among Black youth in the U.S.—according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate increased by 37 percent from 2018 to 2021. 

Previous research from the American Psychological Association (APA) has shown that, though the number of culturally sensitive suicide prevention programs seems to be limited, these programs hold much promise in reducing suicidality in ethnic minority groups in the U.S. Similar APA research has shown that, in order to address specific mental health outcomes for Black youth, more culturally grounded research is needed. 

Researchers at The Trevor Project suggest that having more research conducted on the mental health of Black trans and non-binary youth is one of the most important steps in addressing the disparities found in their report.

“Immediate steps must be taken by educators, youth-serving adults and mental health professionals to ensure that Black trans and nonbinary young people feel seen, supported and protected against a world that so often brings them harm,” said Price.

Mzwandile Poncana is a former intern at Xtra through a fellowship with Journalists for Human Rights. His work primarily covers social justice issues such as migrant rights, labour rights, decarceration and the intersection between marginalized identities and health—as well as culture and art. He’s been published in Broadview Magazine and Ricochet among other places.

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