Religiosity has been found, on the whole, to be associated with reduced suicide risk.
But that doesn’t appear to be true for young LGBQ people who are religious, say the authors of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (Transgender people weren’t included in this analysis.)
Based on data from more than 21,000 U.S. college students, researchers found that greater religious feeling and engagement was tied to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for participants who identified as LGBQ.
“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves, and in our study our evidence suggests that may not be the case for everyone, particularly for those we refer to as sexual minority people,” said one of the study authors, John Blosnich of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The researchers worked with survey data from the 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium, involving 21,247 college-enrolled 18- to 30-year-olds. 1,636 of them identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or “questioning” (the Q in LGBQ).
All participants chose on a scale of one to five how important religion was in their lives. 21 to 28 percent of LGBQ respondents rated their religiosity in categories four or five; 39 percent of heterosexuals did.
Questioning youth had the highest rate of recent thoughts about suicide, at 16.4 percent, compared with 3.7 percent of heterosexuals, 6.5 percent of lesbian/gay individuals and 11.4 percent of bisexuals. Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by 20 percent of bisexuals, 17 percent of questioning youth, 14 percent of gay or lesbian youth, and 5 percent of heterosexuals.
For bisexual youth, the importance of religion was not associated with suicidal behavior, while religiosity was protective against thoughts of suicide and suicidal attempts in the heterosexual youth. But lesbians and gays who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts. For lesbians only, religion was associated with a 52 percent increased likelihood of suicidal thinking. Questioning individuals were almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.
One of the authors’ takeaways is that
Religion-based services for mental health and suicide prevention may not benefit gay/lesbian, bisexual, or questioning individuals.
The study wasn’t set up to discover whether LGBQ participants’ religion takes a particularly dim view of non-straight people, the researchers note, but I’ll bet that the correlation is strong — meaning that the greater the faith’s hostility to gay or bisexual relationships, the greater the likelihood of suicidal feelings among its LGBQ adherents.
Other caveats are that the subjects of the study were all enrolled at university, making for a non-representative sample, and that the raw data were collected in 2011, years before same-sex marriage became legal (and religious precepts about gay/bi relationships became a little less relevant).
For the full results, click here.
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