Study Finds LGB People More Likely to Commit Suicide After Seeking Help From Religion

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Put simply, god isn’t helping LGB people deal with their issues. At least that’s what the results of a new study from the Williams Institute says.

It’s called “The Role of Help-Seeking in Preventing Suicide Attempts among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals,” and is co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer with the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, Merilee Teylan with the Medical School at Harvard University, and Sharon Schwartz with the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University. According to the researchers, this study is the first of its kind to examine how mental health treatment correlates with suicide attempts among a “diverse group of LGB adults.”

According to the research, only about 16 percent of LGB people who made a serious suicide attempt sought mental health treatment from a health professional prior to the attempt. About 13 percent sought religious or spiritual treatment prior to the attempt. Sounds normal so far, but here’s the kicker: The study found that “seeking treatment from a mental health or medical provider did not reduce the odds of a suicide attempt.” And if respondents reached out to clergy of some sort, things got worse.

“Respondents who sought mental health or medical treatment at some time prior to their suicide attempt (or, among those who did not attempt suicide, prior to the age when suicide might have been attempted) were as likely as respondents who did not seek any mental health treatment to have a suicide attempt or serious suicide attempt after this time. However, counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.”

Let’s repeat that: If respondents sought help from spiritual guides, they were MORE likely to commit suicide than those who sought no treatment at all.

“The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. “More troubling is the finding that individuals who sought religious or spiritual treatment had higher odds of later attempting suicide than those who did not seek treatment at all”

Other finds:

  • Of the LGB respondents, 17 percent reported a suicide attempt and 8 percent reported a serious suicide attempt over their lifetime.
  • On average, the age of serious suicide attempts coincided with major coming out milestones, with first suicide attempt occurring at mean age of 17
  • A significantly larger proportion of white LGBs (58 percent) sought treatment from medical and mental health professionals prior to a suicide attempt than black (12 percent) and Latino (17 percent) LGBs, but significantly more blacks (24 percent) than white (8 percent) and Latino (7 percent) LGBs sought treatment from religious or spiritual advisors prior to a suicide attempt.

“More studies are needed to assess the efficacy of treatment for LGB people with suicidal ideation in preventing future suicide attempts. But, even without further study, public health officials and health service providers ought to ensure that LGB individuals who seek mental health treatment, whether it is in medical or religious settings, receive competent mental health services that is relevant to their needs,” said Meyer.

For more on the Williams Institute, go to WilliamsInstitute.law.ucla.edu.


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