A new report draws a stark picture about how religion can affect the mental health of young LGBT people.
In a mental health survey given to more than 21,000 college students age 18 to 30, 14% of gay and lesbian respondents reported having attempted suicide in the past, compared to just 5% of heterosexuals. That supports a study from San Diego State University last year that found gay teens were four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
But the new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also factored in participants’ religious views: Gays and lesbians who believed religion was “very important” were 38% more likely to have suicidal thoughts than non-religious queer people. Religious lesbians alone were 52% more likely to have reported suicidal ideations than non-religious ones. Questioning individuals were almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.
For straight participants, though, being religious made them less likely to have suicidal thoughts. (Religiosity wasn’t a factor in suicidal tendencies among bisexual young adults, who expressed high rates of suicidal thoughts across the board.)
Participants weren’t asked about their specific religious backgrounds, so researchers couldn’t measure any correlations to specific faiths.
“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves,” the report’s author, John Blosnich of West Virginia University, told Huffington Post. “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.”
Blosnich added it can be “very scary” to be deemed “a ’sinner'” just because of who you love. “Sexual minority people may feel abandoned, they may experience deep sadness and anger, and they may worry what this means for their families—especially if their families are very religious, too.”
In all, 2.3% of respondents in the survey identified as gay or lesbian, 3.3% as bi, and just over 1% as questioning. The percentage that identified as transgender was too small to collect data on.