Women's Health

Transgender people have a higher suicide risk, landmark study from Denmark finds

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Transgender people in Denmark have a significantly higher risk of suicide than other groups, according to a comprehensive analysis of the medical and legal records of nearly seven million people over the past four decades. The study is the first in the world to analyze national suicide data for this group.

Transgender people in the country had 7.7 times the rate of attempted suicide and 3.5 times the rate of death from suicide compared to the rest of the population, according to records analyzed in the study, although rates of suicide in all groups decreased over time. And transgender people in Denmark died – by suicide or other causes – at younger ages than others.

“It’s definitely a huge problem that needs to be looked at,” said Dr. Morten Frisch, a sexual health epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen. and co-author of the new study.

The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, come at a charged political moment in the United States, where Republican lawmakers across the country have enacted laws targeting sexuality and gender identity, restricting drag performances, bathroom use for transgender people. and gender-related medical care.

Studies of LGBTQ people in the United States have shown that they have high rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts, which puts them at high risk of death from suicide. But with little data on actual deaths, the risk of suicide has become a subject of speculation and heated debate. Some Republicans have argued that suicides among transgender people are rare, while some LGBTQ advocates have said the new laws could lead to more young transgender people dying by suicide.

“This offers a stark rebuttal of some of those policy arguments suggesting that the risk of suicide in these groups is exaggerated,” said Ann Haas, a professor emeritus at the City University of New York who has studied suicide risk among LGBTQ people. for two decades.

But, Dr Haas added, “now is not the time to use the data for political recriminations.”

The United States, like most countries, does not have information about the sexual orientation or gender identity of people who die violent deaths because this information is not recorded on death certificates. A few death investigators attempt to collect this data by interviewing friends and family of the deceased, although progress has been slow.

Denmark, however, has a centralized data repository for all of its citizens, allowing researchers to conduct massive and rigorously controlled studies.

The authors of the new report identified nearly 3,800 transgender people in Denmark by extracting data from two sources: hospital records and applications for legal gender change. Among this group, almost 43% had a psychiatric diagnosis, compared to 7% of the non-transgender group.

The study identified 92 suicide attempts and 12 suicide deaths in the transgender group between 1980 and 2021, a significantly higher rate than was found in the non-transgender group. The researchers said there were most likely other suicides that weren’t captured in the data because no records indicated the person’s gender identity. The study also found that the rate of other non-suicidal deaths in the transgender group was nearly double the rate in the non-transgender group.

The United States and Denmark have comparable suicide rates – 14 per 100,000 people in the general population – suggesting that the study’s findings could also apply to the United States, said said researchers.

“Trans people face widespread poverty, widespread discrimination, they’re more likely to end up homeless, they’re overrepresented in our country’s prison system, our country’s foster care system,” Gillian said. Branstetter, a communications strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on transgender rights. “This material lack has very real consequences on their lives, up to and including early deaths.”

But the researchers cautioned against drawing too broad conclusions about the calculated rates. For one thing, the raw number of suicides and attempted suicides among transgender people was low.

Based on their research tools, the researchers found that around 0.06% of the Danish population is transgender. In contrast, the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles has estimated, using survey data, that the number of people who identify as transgender in the United States is 10 times higher than that. . This could mean that many transgender people in Denmark – and in particular the growing number of young people who identify as trans or non-binary – have not been captured in the data, and perhaps the true suicide rate is different from that reported, the researchers said.

“These surveys tend to include much broader spectra of trans individuals, and we cannot be so certain that our findings are as problematic in the larger group,” Dr. Frisch said.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

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