Study finds that risk of suicide in transgender community may be reduced by changing policy and societal factors

Researchers from Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry have determined that policy and societal changes may prevent thousands of transgender adults in Ontario from attempting or seriously considering suicide.

Greta Bauer, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Schulich Medicine, led the study published in BMC Public Health. The findings present the first evidence of the connection between viewing gender recognition as a human right and the reduction of suicide amongst transgender people. It has been estimated that there are approximately 53,500 transgender adults in Ontario.

Bauer’s study examines potentially modifiable factors affecting the daily lives of transgender people that may lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. According to the study, in the past year, an estimated 35.1 per cent of trans Ontarians seriously considered suicide and 11.2 per cent reported a suicide attempt. A total of 433 respondents participated in the study.

These modifiable factors include social support, having identity documents that match expressed gender, protection from transphobia – defined as ranging from verbal harassment to physical and sexual assaults – and medical transition to bring hormones, anatomy or both in alignment with expressed gender.

In approaching the study, Bauer’s hypothesis was that certain environmental factors, societal behaviours and policies had an impact on suicide in transgender people. “We wanted to test whether we could potentially reduce these high levels of suicide risk with increased social inclusion, protection from transphobia or through gender transition,” Bauer said. “People often think that it is being transgender itself that is causing suicidal thoughts or attempts, but it’s not that simple. It’s the social marginalization.”

The study found that high social support, specifically parental support, is associated with the potential prevention of 170 cases of serious consideration of suicide per 1000 trans individuals. The data also showed if transgender people are protected from transphobia, 160 cases of serious consideration of suicide could be potentially prevented per 1000 trans persons. Having one or more identity documents which match expressed gender, such as a passport or driver’s license, is associated with the potential prevention of 90 cases of considering suicide.

The study estimated that most of these factors had the potential to reduce the suicide attempt rate among those who were considering suicide.

Completing a medical transition has a strong beneficial impact. By completing medical transitions as quickly as possible, 170 cases of serious consideration could be prevented per 1000 trans persons. Additionally, 240 suicide attempts could be prevented out of 1000 people seriously considering suicide.

Data was collected through the Trans PULSE Project – a community-based research project initiated by Bauer and a broad group of academic and community colleagues in 2005 – that is investigating the impact of social exclusion and discrimination on the health of transgender people in Ontario. This study specifically looked at Ontarians aged 16 and older who identified as transgender. The second author, Ayden Scheim, PhD Candidate, is a current contributor to the Trans PULSE Project.

Author biographies are available at:
Greta Bauer:
Ayden Scheim: