New study shows more mental health services lead to lower suicide risk for LGBTQ college students

The research suggests racialized and trans and non-binary students face greater suicide risks

A new study shows that LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services on campus are at a far lower risk for suicide than those who lack access to support.

The research, conducted by The Trevor Project, showed that LGBTQ college students who had access to mental health services on campus had 84 percent lower odds of attempting suicide, compared to those who did not have access. Queer and trans students who were well supported also had lower odds of considering suicide. 

“While college environments offer a number of positive and protective factors for LGBTQ students, the reality is that suicide risk still very much persists,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, a research scientist at The Trevor Project, in a written statement.

Though 86 percent of LGBTQ college students said that their school offered mental health services to students, many reported common barriers to accessing them. Just over a third of students said they did not feel comfortable seeking them out, while 29 percent said they were discouraged by long waitlists and 17 percent were deterred because of privacy concerns.

The research was conducted through a national survey that took data from 34,000 LGBTQ youth across the U.S., aged 13 to 24. This larger survey also revealed 45 percent of LGBTQ youth had seriously considered suicide in the past year. One in three LGBTQ college students reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, with 7 percent reporting a suicide attempt. 

“It’s essential to emphasize that we still do not have known counts or registries of the LGBTQ youth population—and comprehensive, intersectional data on LGBTQ youth mental health outcomes remain limited,” says Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project. “Our annual national survey strives to fill in these gaps and amplify the experiences of young LGBTQ people, a marginalized group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”

Previous research reveals that these issues are ongoing: a 2018 study, for example, showed that LGBTQ college students reported higher rates of negative experiences and mental health outcomes—including discrimination, depression and suicide risk. Another study, released in 2017, found that queer and trans students often experience various barriers when attempting to access mental health services—such as not knowing how to find services on campus, feelings of shame and concerns about the cost.

In recent years, college campuses across North America have been facing a mental health crisis, with the supply of mental health services not meeting students’ demand. According to the 2021 annual report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, which sourced data from 600 colleges across the U.S., 35 percent of schools were revealed to have limited counselling sessions, and 65 percent didn’t have any on-campus staff to provide psychiatric services. 

 

One of the main takeaways from The Trevor Project’s study is that, within the LGBTQ student community, the suicide risk was highest among both LGBTQ students of colour, and trans and non-binary students. Students of colour reported attempting suicide at a rate 1.5 times higher than their white LGBTQ peers, while trans and non-binary students reported attempting suicide at a rate twice as high as their cisgender LGB peers. 

Additionally, these groups were also more likely to consider suicide than their white, cisgender peers. 

“These data illuminate that LGBTQ college students who hold multiple identities likely face barriers and/or stigma,” the study reports. 

Researchers emphasize that colleges should be aware that making mental health services available, accessible and affirming is essential to the well-being of LGBTQ students. They also stress that colleges should be mindful of using gender-affirming language in classrooms, supply inclusive and comprehensive physical and mental healthcare for LGBTQ students, and embed LGBTQ-specific resources into student health and counselling centres. 

They also suggest that campuses with small student bodies must also make sure that their mental health and LGBTQ services can protect the privacy of those seeking support. 

Dr. Myeshia Price, another Trevor Project researcher, said that providing affirming spaces should go beyond on-campus clinics.

“Making colleges more inclusive also means making faces more inclusive,” she tells Xtra. “Professors should also put in the effort to be welcoming to students: asking for pronouns before classes, putting a sign on their door saying their office is a safe space, for example.”

The findings suggest BIPOC LGBTQ students need resources that acknowledge the specific disparities they face, and are tailored to their needs.”

Beyond mental health services, the research also showed a correlation between suicide risk and the presence of LGBTQ student services, such as LGBTQ centres. Queer and trans college students with access to these services through their college had 44 percent lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those without the same options. 

The availability of these services was associated with whether or not their college was accepting of LGBTQ people, with nearly half of respondents who didn’t have access to LGBTQ services through their college saying they felt their campus was not supportive of queer and trans people. 

“We urge all colleges and universities to realize that access to mental healthcare services, as well as LGBTQ-specific student services, on college campuses, is critical for ensuring the mental health and safety of their LGBTQ student body,” says DeChants.

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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