According to Study, Two-Thirds of Transgender Individuals Have Contemplated Suicide

According to a recent study conducted by Rylan J. Testa of the Center for LGBTQ Evidence-based Applied Research in Palo Alto, California, two out of every three transgender individuals surveyed have contemplated suicide. To put that in perspective, suicide ideation rates range from 6% to 12% in the general population. Transgender (trans) individuals are more likely to be victims of physical violence and sexual assault than nontransgender peers. Many transgender people have experienced significant discrimination and prejudice. Research also has shown that transgender individuals are more likely to engage in negative coping strategies to deal with stressors; rates of drug and alcohol use and other potentially harmful behaviors are elevated among the transgender population.

Testa wanted to determine how physical violence and sexual violence affected transgender men and women independently. He sought to measure the influence of various types of violence on drug use, alcohol use, and suicidal ideation and attempts in a sample of 179 transgender women and 92 transgender men. The participants were part of a larger study, the Virginia Transgender Health Initiative Survey, designed to identify any health concerns that may be associated with the transgender lifestyle — in particular, HIV prevalence and treatment.

After reviewing data from both groups of transgender participants, Testa found that sexual and physical violence directly correlated with suicide attempts and ideation in transgender men and women. Additionally, transgender men who had experienced either form of violence had higher rates of alcohol misuse, while the women who had been victims of sexual violence had increases in alcohol and drug abuse. Testa also reported that more than half of participants reported being victims of some form of violence. “Furthermore, an alarming 26.3% of trans women and 30.4% of trans men reported a history of suicide attempts,” Testa said. He also found that fewer than 10% of the victims of violence reported their attacks because they were afraid of retaliation by their attacker or the police to whom they reported the crime. Clearly, tolerance, acceptance, and non-violence are social obligations that need dramatic expansion to support the health and well-being of transgender people.

Testa, R. J., Sciacca, L. M., Wang, F., Hendricks, M. L., Goldblum, P., Bradford, J., Bongar, B. (2012). Effects of Violence on Transgender People. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029604

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  • Dr. Lynn Banez, PhD, LPC

    August 31st, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    Important & much needed research/article. The article shines the light on first the lack of awarness & knowledge of trans people. The multiple layers of “membership” in groups that experience opression becomes clearer in terms of being assaulted, feeling ashamed & fearful of reporting because of “membership in non-dominant group (woman, trans, etc)” and feeling unable to report for fear over the response by those who are supposed to help such as police who often lack appropriate training & understanding. All these layers of “having to fight for your rights & dignity” leads to dispair and ways to relieve bad, difficult feelings, forgetting the incidents and turning to substance misuse/abuse and suicide, the ultimate “out” from painful events, memories & feelings. Definitely need to provide people with accurate info and an open, honest conversation about being transgender, being a woman who has to feal with sexism, being assaulted…esp as a man and then being transgender, woman or man who was abused or sexually assaulted. We need to advocate on their behalf and to increase education on all areas. Article is good start!

  • Lita

    September 1st, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    Think of the sheer amount of abuse and hatred that a transgender person has had to endure for a long period of time and then think about how this would make you feel. That is something difficult that most of us would struggle with, so it soes not surprise me that this demographic has to sadly deal with higher than the norm rates of suicide and depression. If someone you love is dealing with this in their own lives, I so encourage you to help them seek counseling. This is not to try to change them because I don’t believe in that; but more to give them guidance and support and show them that this is okay and that no matter they need to feel good about who they are.

  • Dale

    September 1st, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    Two thirds?! It is a crazy figure for any group! While stress and abuse can play a role in alcohol and drug abuse the clear lack of support system and difference in attitudes of others when it comes to trans people is what is driving them down this dangerous road. Having problems is one thing but having no support or help to deal with it is quite another and that is clearly lacking for them and needs some serious look in.

  • Frances Tadda

    September 1st, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    I agree with the three posters, this is very necessary research and a good start. Dale further points out “the clear lack of support system and difference in attitudes of others when it comes to trans people is what is driving them down this dangerous road.”
    The point I’d like to stress, using Dale’s thought “difference in attitudes of others”, is in the main article’s wording, namely, “health concerns that may be associated with the transgender lifestyle.”
    Unfortunately, most researchers are not themselves transgender, nor do they often know someone of a close relation that is. So, I ask you to please STOP USING THAT TERM! Being transgender is NOT a freaking lifestyle!! We are human beings, who happen to have bodies that are not congruent with our internal sense of self. This isn’t a choice, as the word “lifestyle” implies, it is who we are.

  • Amber Powell

    September 1st, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Im not offended by the use of the word lifestyle in the context here. I can only assume that such a group of illustrious people know it is hardly a choice. As for the results – no surprise at all. Likely they are under reported as many feel ashamed or have internalized transphobia.

    No sensible trans woman who is “out” will call the police if it can possibly be avoided.

    However, im sorry to let this same group of clever men know that very very few trans people would ever fill out a questionnaire like this. For those who survive a transition, they are mostly intensely private and would not take the risk of getting involved with this sort of thing. Most people are only out during their transition and after we simply disappear.

    Completing transition eases our distress considerably and – no – its not just about GRS. That is one small part only.

    It would certainly be helpful if you could elicit the help of actual trans people.

  • Solomon

    September 1st, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    I agree with Dale! This is a crazy statistic! Two thirds? I would be scared to death if I had a family member engaged in this kind of lifestyle, not necessarily because of that choice, because that is something he will have to live with. But it would make me frightened for his safety and sanity to be transgender.

  • Jenn

    September 1st, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    @Frances, I don’t think the article is referring to being transgender as a lifestyle. Rather, I think that the reference is to the fact that many trans people do make lifestyle choices – for example, the enormous percentage of trans women who are escorts, or the high rate of drug/alcohol use cited in the article – which are risky, health-wise.

    Obviously, trans people are primarily driven into making those lifestyle choices by circumstances, including systematic oppression and discrimination. They are lifestyle choices nonetheless.

  • DOnaLD

    September 1st, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    While there’s no arguing the fact that help for transgender people is not as easily available or accessible as other people,that should not become something of an excuse.A lot of people just do not seek treatment or help and go on to be involved in alcohol and drugs.That is a not a failure of the support system,that is a failure of the individual,transgender or not!

  • Joe

    September 2nd, 2012 at 4:25 AM

    I guess I don’t know much about this whole trans gender issue- are these men and women who want to be the opposite sex from what they are, or they dress like that sometimes, in the midst of having sex change operations, what? It might help me understand this a whole lot better if I knew what I should be thinking about!

  • Haley

    September 2nd, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    Transgender individuals, to put it simply, are people who are born into a body associated with one gender, but feel as if they belong to another. A transgender woman would be someone born with a “male” body, but feels she is female. A transgender man is someone who is born into a “female” body, but feels he is male.

  • gerard

    September 2nd, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Lita:Yes,it must be absolutely pathetic to deal with all the trouble and hatred from people.And for what?For something you have no choice over,something that happens and is not done.Its almost like being put down for something you have no control over!

  • Carlos

    September 3rd, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    I for one am tired of all of this happening to people who have done nothing to deserve that, they have been conditioned to hate themselves that they have to live with the fact that depression will be a large part of their lives along with self hatred and hatred from other people who have never even met them!
    Aren’t we ready to move on past this? To know that we can be better than this?

  • grrl aex

    September 3rd, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    The article states “… health concerns that may be associated with the transgender lifestyle-…”

    “the lifestyle” is singular which precludes an interpretation of meaning as plural as in “lifestyle choices”. Whoever wrote this article was definitely referring to the transgender condition as a mere “lifestyle”.

    This is the language used by those who are, ironically, the cause of the problems the reviewed paper addresses within the transgender population. “Lifestyle” is the language of the oppressor and the bigot. It is code for “choice” and thus code for “bad choices; bad outcomes” and fosters/justifies a general overarching blame-the-victim mentality, thus absolving the bigot of their own responsibility in creating the problems their targeted group experiences at the bigots’ hands.

    Being transgender is not a lifestyle choice; it is a condition of life.

  • MaxSpeed

    September 3rd, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    The only reason so many trans individuals contemplate suicide is because of the people around them telling them all sorts of negative things.No matter how optimistic a person you are things you hear and endure day in and day out will finally get to you.It is a collective crime that many people take part in and it needs to stop at oncE!

  • Nat

    September 4th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    There is already so much violence and hate in our world.
    Do we wish to encourage and even increase that by this kind of behavior?
    Suicide is so terrible, difficult to contemplate and difficult for a family to process when they are left behind.
    Is it to much to ask just to let each be his own?

  • josephine p

    September 4th, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    could be all about attention seeking
    they have “contemplated” suicide but never tried or succeeded
    have we given any thoughts to how they could be using this as a way to seek attention?
    of course getting attention like this is not healthy but maybe they are just looking for some kind of affirmarion that they don’t otherwise see that they are getting

  • One2One

    September 4th, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Discrimination and prejudice is present, theres no doubting that but how can these people let others’ words and actions affect them so much that they even contemplate suicide?? I cannot understand this. No matter what others say or do that should not affect you to such an extent,period.

    To have others influence you so much means you need to buckle up somewhere,maybe that is what is bringing thoughts of suicide in your mind.

  • Jocelyn

    September 4th, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    Subjecting a group of people to things such as abuse,discrimination and ill treatment for something they don’t even have the choice over – that in itself is a crime and the ones that do this are the ones that are not normal and they need punishment and some preaching!

    I have seen a lot of transgenders who have been abused and discriminated against for no mistake of theirs and really, they need help on a community level. People need to be sensitized to their problems and awareness is of paramount importance in things such as these.

  • deanne p

    September 5th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    I am assuming that in larger cities where this is more out in the open that there are more therapists geared toward meeting these specific needs?

  • Kris Smith

    September 5th, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    It would help if “transgender” wasn’t defined to mean everyone from an intersex baby to a cross-dressing sexual fetishist, wouldn’t it?

  • Brisbane

    January 13th, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    I think also that transgender people may consider suicide due to the social stigma and discrimination they receive that may greatly contribute to their unhappiness. Perhaps when society stops judging them, they may be able to live a little happier within themselves and the statistics from these studies may change.

  • RachelAnn

    March 18th, 2013 at 5:53 AM

    I’m a transgender woman; in transition now for 13 years. (Though I’m also forced to keep my “guy” self alive for purposes of keeping my children, my insurance, and my legal married status.) I’m one of those two-thirds who contemplated suicide. I started having suicidal thoughts when I was 14 and entering puberty, and they continued and intensified until I was well into my transition, almost 30 years later. The reason for the suicidal thoughts is first and foremost from the dichotomy of your absolute perception of your gender being the exact opposite of your outward gender. And the dichotomy increases if left untreated. I still have to fight suicidal thoughts when I go through a “down” emotional period. For myself, my faith sustained me or I would have absolutely killed myself before I turned 20, which was back in 1980, when treatment for the TG condition was only just emerging from the medical dark ages. (Driving full speed into an freeway bridge abutment was my choice of suicide, and I rated abutments by how certain they would do the job. I still do it, but the intent is gone for the most part.)

    But suicidal thoughts come from multiple sources/stimuli. I have been discriminated against frequently. I have had co-workers who supported me just watch silently as one person abused my daily for two years in the office; afraid that if they stepped in, he would leave the computer program he was writing for the company unfinished. I have a stable career, but know if I needed to change jobs it could be a nightmare. I have a loving family who supports me, but there’s always the fear of public discovery, which would lead to ridicule of our children in high school. And possibly having Child Protective Services take them away from us because my being TG could make me an unfit parent. My own brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. have essentially ignored or rejected me. Because of all this, I need to maintain my male persona in numerous locations for the sake of my spouse and children, which adds stress on to me. (It’s worth it, but there’s a price.)

    And keep in mind that the 66% contemplation rate is actually higher, since it doesn’t include the 25%-50% of TG people who contemplated and DID commit suicide.

    There is hope. I’ve lectured to medical students at two medical universities in this area. There are more and more people who are curious and friendly about and toward transgendered people. And knowing about a thing will lesson fear of that thing.

    But from the transgendered point of view, we need to keep quiet or risk what little security we’ve built up. For most of us, opening up is a scary ordeal that has lead to grief in the past. Will I report a crime where I’m sexually assaulted? No, probably not. The fallout that would happen as a result of my being outed could be even worse than the assault itself.

    A transgendered person who is receiving therapy and medical treatment is always happier. But the price for internal calm is usually social damnation. If you have occasion to meet and befriend a transgendered person, be patient. We are always willing to have a new friend. And, having kept our secret for so many years, we jump at the chance to talk. Just allow us our caginess, our oddities, and our eagerness to be ourselves.

    Thank you.

  • Brianne c

    April 12th, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    Im a male to female transgender .
    Im one of the lucky ones, I have a good job
    own my own house, have a few motorbikes,
    pilots license,and pass for female even
    when dressed in coveralls at work, Helicopter
    I have been close to ending my life more
    than once before starting hormone theropy.
    the gun was loaded and I dident want to spend
    another day in sadness. Im still here because I
    couldent leave my kids alone, that wouldent be
    fair. Since Hormones Im alot happier, confident a better partner and parent, not ot mention better looking, thanks Premrin.
    This is not a lifestyle or something someone chooses.
    No one would put themselves through this, it is how
    we were born and we hurt all thi time.
    It can get better though with help and Hormones, Hormones and Surgery are a huge part of this journey , they help us match the outside body with the inside mind.
    We also NEED to help the youth before they get to the
    stage where they are in this pain, it scars us forever.
    Thanks for all the support out there it makes it possible for us to go on.
    Brianne Chabassol

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