Apr 29, 2022 - Health

LGBTQ youth with autism 50% more likely to attempt suicide, survey finds

Photo of a hand holding an LGBTQ pride flag in the air
A Pride flag during a Transgender Day of Visibility event outside the Massachusetts statehouse in Boston on March 31. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

LGBTQ youth who have been diagnosed with autism were over 50% more likely to attempt suicide in the past year compared to LGBTQ youth who have never had an autism diagnosis, according to a research brief published Friday by the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth under 25.

Why it matters: Previous studies have shown that people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have an increased risk for suicide attempts and deaths, but research on the condition has historically focused on cisgender boys.

  • "Even though current research into sexual health and sexual orientation of autistic adolescents and adults is limited in size and scope, it is clear that differences in these areas may leave autistic individuals vulnerable to wide-ranging negative consequences with regards to both mental and physical health," researchers wrote in a 2021 study published in the journal Autism Research.

Details: The Trevor Project's survey of 34,759 LGBTQ youth found that both youth who had been diagnosed with autism as well as youth who suspected they may be autistic had slightly greater odds of seriously considering suicide in the past year.

  • Youth who suspected that they may be autistic reported the highest rates of anxiety (79%) and depression (71%) compared to youth who have autism diagnoses and those who do not.
  • Youth who had been diagnosed with autism also reported higher rates of recent anxiety (77%) and depression (66%) compared to youth who had never been diagnosed with autism.

What they're saying: "These findings highlight the urgent need for mental health providers to offer both LGBTQ-affirming and autism-affirming counseling services to autistic LGBTQ youth," the Trevor Project said in the brief.

  • "Particular attention should be paid to developing and implementing mental health and suicide assessments that are inclusive of autistic youths’ unique needs."

The big picture: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December that more children are getting diagnosed with autism, and at younger ages.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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