More than half of all teenagers who identify as female to male transgender have attempted suicide, a new study shows.

According to an analysis of relevant data spanning three years from the Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey conducted by Russell B. Toomey, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona-Tucson, 51 percent of female to male trans-identified teens reported at least one suicide attempt. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and the survey was produced by Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit group focused on youth issues. 

The data was collected from June 2012 to May 2015 and included 120,617 adolescents ranging in age from 11 to 19 years. Survey questions included: “Have you ever tried to kill yourself?” Fourteen percent of all the respondents said they had. Participants were 15 years old on average. The study also found that parents’ education levels and family socioeconomic status did not appear to influence whether teens would attempt suicide.

But the numbers were much higher for those who identified as something other than their biological sex.

In the survey sample, 60,973 of the adolescents were females and 57,871 were males who identified themselves based on their biology. The remainder self-identified as something else. Among them, 202 identified as male to female transgender, 175 identified as female to male transgender, 344 identified as nonbinary transgender, and 1,052 identified as “questioning.”

Twenty-eight percent of “questioning” adolescents reported suicide attempts as did 30 percent of male to female trans-identified and 42 percent of nonbinary trans-identified. Such numbers are considerably higher than the adolescents and teens who identified with their biological sex; only 10 percent of such males and 18 percent of females reported attempting suicide. 

In a CNN interview, Heather Hutzi, chief psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California, said suicide rates are higher in every population that has “increased stigma attached to them — or a lack of understanding.”

While she was not a part of Toomey’s research, she noted that feeling marginalized, stigmatized, and isolated leads many young people to feel so hopeless that they start using drugs, which, when coupled with depression, increases the risk of suicide.

Hutzi added that suicide is “the second leading cause of death” among teenagers and that the rates are rising.

They’re very impulsive,” she said.

“For adolescents, in particular, a large percentage — I think it’s like 50 percent to 60 percent — make an attempt within 30 minutes of having the idea. Their brain isn’t developed enough.” 

John Ayers, a researcher at the University of California-San Diego, though not involved in the study, told Reuters this week that it remains unknown as to why trans-identified teens commit suicide at such high rates.

“It is critically important that we begin investing and asking why, instead of simply counting how many, especially for designing effective prevention campaigns,” he said.

While no one knows what gender identity is in the physical sense as it’s an amorphous concept, Toomey asserts it’s “one’s own understanding of being male, female, neither, or both.”

Written by: Brandon Showalter
Feature image: Reuters/Tami Chappell) A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016.
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