Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who sought mental health counseling from a religious or spiritual adviser were more likely to subsequently attempt suicide than those who sought no treatment at all, says a new study from the Williams Institute.
The study, released by the think tank today, found that LGB people who received therapy from a medical or mental health professional were no less likely to attempt suicide than those who did not seek help, but assistance from faith-based counselors was associated with higher suicide risk.
“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 coauthor Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., a senior scholar of public policy at the institute, in a press release. “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.”
“More studies are needed to assess the efficacy of treatment for LGB people with suicidal ideation in preventing future suicide attempts,” he continued. “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.”
The study found that among LGB people, whites were more likely to receive treatment from a medical or mental health professional than were either blacks or Latinos, while blacks were more likely to seek out faith-based counseling. It also found that suicide attempts, on average, coincided with major coming-out milestones.
The data analyzed in the study were obtained as part of Project Stride, a large epidemiological study that investigated the relationships among stress, identity, and mental health in diverse LGB and heterosexual populations. The information was collected in New York City in 2004 and 2005.
The study is titled “The Role of Help-Seeking in Preventing Suicide Attempts Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals” and authored by Meyer, Merilee Teylan of Harvard University’s Medical School, and Sharon Schwartz, of Columbia University’s Department of Epidemiology. It was published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior; the full study is available here.
The Williams Institute, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, focuses on legal and public policy issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.