LGB veterans have a higher suicide risk: study
A study has noted that lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans have a higher risk of suicide, accounting for 3.8 percent of deaths among LGB veterans in 2017.
Likewise, suicide was ranked fifth among the top causes of death among LGB veterans in the same year.
In comparison, suicide accounted for 1.7 percent of deaths in the general US population. Likewise, it ranked 10th among the top causes of death among the general population.
Stigma faced by the LGB veterans
The research, which was published last December in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, suggested that stigma was a possible factor for the higher suicide risk.
“Sexual minority veterans likely have the same risk factors for suicide as non-sexual minority veterans, but they also contend with historical institutional stigma that may influence mortality by suicide,” wrote Dr. Kristine Lynch.
Lynch, of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System and one of eight lead authors of the study, identified this under a framework known as minority stress.
In particular, the researchers cited a report in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 of “Health Hazards of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.”
In that report, the policy of excluding queer service members had caused them to hide their sexual history from doctors, which was detrimental to their sexual health.
This, in turn, meant sexually transmitted infections and diseases went undiagnosed, and service members and their partners were not treated or did not have information about prevention.
Minority stress experienced by LGB veterans
The researchers noted that the lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations often experience chronically high levels of stress.
Under this stress, they experience depression, poor health, abusive childhoods, homelessness, and sexual violence.
“Compounding effects of minority stress may contribute to excess death by suicide among veterans,” Lynch and her colleagues wrote of the sexual minority veterans.
“However, to our knowledge, no studies have examined suicide mortality among veterans based on status,” they said.
From 2000 to 2017, there were 436 LGB veterans who had died of suicide. Of this number, at least 346 were men while 90 were women.
While the data noted that the suicides were older, white, queer men, LGB women of color were also disproportionately affected by suicide as LGB women were more likely to be young and black.
Missing transgender veterans in the study
The study is admittedly limited as the researchers did not include transgender veterans in it.
However, it does note that there is existing research showing that from 2000 to 2009, LGB veterans that used the services of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) had similar suicide rates as transgender service members.
The previous Trump administration had pushed for a ban on transgender military members. Likewise, the VHA does not cover gender-affirming surgeries.
In 1994, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy went into effect. This allowed queer people to serve in the US military but only if they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation. The ban ended in 2011.
The study was based on VHA’s electronic health record data, with more than 96,000 LGB veterans identified through clinical notes and administrative data for sexual orientation.
The experts said more research is needed on how suicide prevention efforts can reach sexual minority veterans.