STUDY: Anti-Transgender Violence Exacerbates Suicidal Thinking And Substance Abuse

A new study of transgender people in Virginia has found that experiencing physical or sexual violence significantly contributes to individuals’ suicidal thinking and substance abuse. The study, conducted by the Center for LGBTQ Evidence-based Applied Research, found that over 70 percent of respondents had a history of suicidal ideation, with about 28 percent having reported a past suicidal attempt. (The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which had a sample of over 6,000, found that as many as 41 percent of trans people had attempted suicide, whereas only 1.6 percent of the general population has ever done so.) The likelihood and frequency of those attempts significantly related to whether or not they had experienced physical or sexual violence:

Among trans people in our sample, both physical and sexual violence were related to having a history of suicidal ideation, history of suicide attempts, higher number of attempts, and to substance abuse. This is consistent with distress and negative coping responses seen in the general population as a result of physical and sexual violence. […]

Factors specific to trans victims of violence were identified, including high reported prevalence of violence related to gender identity or expression, varied sources of this violence, and low rate of reporting these incidents to police. As increased attention is devoted to the trans community in popular culture and research, psychologists have a clear opportunity to act by increasing understanding of the impact of violence on trans individuals’ mental health, and by responding with appropriate prevention and treatment efforts.

The levels of violence against trans people is problematic enough, but the clear consequence of that victimization is particularly troubling. More research like this is necessary to emphasize how much more must be done to protect trans people in society. Stigma against individuals who do not conform to gender norms needs to be interrupted at the youngest of ages to prevent such animus from further developing. Families must also be educated about trans identities to help prevent the high rates of abuse that occur in the home.