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As Youth Come Out Earlier, Support Can Save Lives

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A new Trevor Project study finds that coming out at a younger age is associated with heightened suicide risk -- but supportive environments can lessen that.

A Trevor Project research brief on coming out and suicide risk highlights the importance of a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ youth

LGBTQ+ youth are coming out at younger and younger ages, and for some of them it's hazardous, notes the research brief, "Age of Sexual Orientation Outness and Suicide Risk," released Monday. But that's not because of coming out itself -- it depends on the level of support they receive.

Using data from the Trevor Project's 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, the brief examines the association between LGBTQ+ youth's age of coming out about their sexual orientation and suicide risk.

Among the key findings:

* LGBTQ+ youth are coming out about their sexual orientation at younger ages. LGBTQ+ youth in the sample who were aged 13-17 came out on average at age 13, while those aged 18-24 came out on average at age 16.

* Those who came out before age 13 had increased odds of suicide risk. Fifty-six percent of LGBTQ+ youth who came out before age 13 seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 42 percent of those who came out later. Twenty-two percent of those who came out before age 13 attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 12 percent of those who came out later.

* However, LGBTQ+ youth who came out before age 13 and had high family support reported lower rates of attempting suicide in the past year.

* A delay in coming out was also associated with heightened suicide risk. LGBTQ+ youth who came out two or more years after first thinking they might be a part of this population had a 56 percent increased odds of attempting suicide in the past year.

* LGBTQ+ youth who came out before age 13 reported higher rates of victimization due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-six percent of those who came out before age 13 reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed because of those characteristics, and 83 percent said they experienced discrimination.

"Coming out in and of itself is not harmful to LGBTQ youth mental health -- it's more about the level of support you have where and when you come out," Dr. Myeshia Price, director of research science at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. "These data should not discourage LGBTQ youth from coming out for fear of bullying or harassment, but rather serve as a call to action for the people in their lives -- parents, family members, teachers, doctors, and other direct service providers -- to create safe, affirming environments where LGBTQ youth can feel seen and supported for who they are."

If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 is for people of all ages and identities. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations.

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