Are Things Getting Better? Professor Arnold Grossman on Gay Rights and Suicide Risk in LGBT Youth

Arnold Grossman, a professor of applied psychology, is a lead researcher in a study called “Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide Among Sexual Minority Youth.” Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the study seeks to understand the psychological factors that increase suicide risk; information that is crucial in developing effective interventions.  We interviewed Arnold Grossman about his work which follows more that 1,000 LGBT people for a five-year period to determine how their relationship to suicidal ideation changes over time.

What have you learned studying LGBT suicide risk in sexual and gender minority youth?

My research has focused on understanding of mental health challenges faced by LGBT youth including aspects of their resilience and vulnerability. Although most LGBT youth do not engage in suicidal thinking and behaviors, suicide has become a prominent concern because suicide is not only fatal, but it is also a preventable public health outcome.

Our current research is investigating whether Joiner’s “Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide” is applicable to understanding suicide among LGBT youth. As the model predicts our initial findings indicate that both “thwarted belongingness” (e.g., social isolation, loneliness) and “perceived burdensomeness” (e.g., feeling of being a liability to others important in their lives) when present together create a “desire to die” (i.e., suicidal thinking). The next step in our research is to investigate whether LGBT youth acquire the capability to harm themselves (i.e., death by suicide) because of their experiences with persistent victimization and abuse (e.g., verbal, physical, sexual) as well as self-injury.

Professor Arnold Grossman

Given our greater social consciousness and evolving civil rights for LGBT people, are things getting better for young people who are coming out today?

First, the equality of civil rights movement has focused on lesbian and gay adults, especially same-sex couples. Most advances in rights have not embraced bisexual men and women and transgender people.

Second, as a society, we continue to think that youth are not sexual beings and we reject those who self-identify as being LGBT.

According to recent reports, approximately 40% of the homeless youth in New York City identify as LGBT; and they are the throw-away and run-away youth who are in their state of homelessness related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of them continue to experience various types of victimization in their schools and on their streets. So, many of the evolving rights won by adults do not benefit youth.  However, that being said, many more LGBT youth are experiencing greater protections by new school policies protective of their right to be who they are.

What gives you the most hope about the work you are doing?

I am seeing that the outcome of research being conducted by my students and colleagues is leading to increased policies for the protection of LGBT youth and the growth of services for those who experience discrimination, abuse, and other forms of victimization at the hands of peers and adults.

According to a Southern Poverty Law Center’s study, LGBT people are members of the most hated groups in society because of homophobia and transphobia.  LGBT youth, the most vulnerable members of this group, are gaining growing support from compassionate people who are advocating for them and helping them to thrive.