Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) are one of the most vulnerable groups of children in the United States. SGMY experience child maltreatment at higher rates and are adversely and disproportionately impacted by discrimination relative to cisgender and heterosexual youth (CHY). In addition, research consistently indicates that SGMY experience suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide at higher rates than their CHY counterparts. The aim of this study is to test the associations between child maltreatment, discrimination, and suicide risk among SGMY.
Participants between the ages of 13-24 who identified as sexual and/or gender minority (N=94) were recruited from drop-in centers for LGBT youth (M=18, SD=2.87) in the northeast US. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) was used to measure their experience with childhood abuse (e.g., neglect, physical, sexual, emotional). The Everyday Discrimination Scale (EDS) was used to measure their experience with discrimination (e.g., harassed, insulted, lack of respect). The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) was used to measure their level of suicide risk (e.g., suicide ideation, plan, intent, attempt). In order to test study hypotheses, three analyses were conducted: First, the relationship between child maltreatment and suicide risk was analyzed through correlation analyses, with an additional regression analysis examining this relationship by abuse type. Second, the relationship between discrimination and suicide risk was examined. Third, the relationship among maltreatment, discrimination, and suicide risk was tested.
Results indicated a significant relationship between child maltreatment and suicide risk. Specifically, increases in maltreatment were associated with increases in suicide risk (r = 0.47, p<.001). Regression analyses of the four maltreatment types as predictors of suicide risk was statistically significant (R2 = 0.13, F(4, 87) = 4.33, p<.01). Of maltreatment subtypes, emotional abuse was the only significant predictor (Beta = 0.64, p<.01) of suicide risk. With regard to discrimination experiences and suicide risk, there was a statistically significant correlation, as increases in discrimination were associated with increases in suicide risk (r= 0.48, p<.0001). In examining child maltreatment, discrimination and suicide risk, regression analyses revealed that experience with child maltreatment (Beta = 0.03, p<.01) and discrimination (Beta = 0.05, p<.01) both significantly predicted suicide risk (R2 = 0.27, F(2, 114) = 21.37, p<.0001).
The study supports previous findings on the relationship between child maltreatment and suicide risk for SGMY. Of particular interest is the finding regarding EA, as it is the abuse type most likely to predict suicide risk. EA has been understudied to date, given low substantiation rates due to the evidence required for substantiation and this warrants further exploration. Child maltreatment (particularly EA) and discrimination represent an important area of assessment for SGMY service providers, as maltreatment and discrimination may be potential pathways to suicide. The findings also emphasize the need for school and community-level interventions and programs that focus on education and training regarding the adverse impact of discrimination on the safety and well-being of SGMY.