A recently published study, The Role of Help-Seeking in Preventing Suicide Attempts Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals, has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals were more likely to attempt suicide if they sought treatment from religious counsellors.
One possible approach to prevention of suicide attempts is to encourage help-seeking among individuals at risk. We assessed whether different forms of treatment were associated with lower odds of a suicide attempt in a diverse group of 388 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults aged 18–59, sampled from New York City venues. Of individuals who attempted suicide, 23% sought mental health or medical treatment and 14% sought religious or spiritual treatment prior to the suicide attempt. Black and Latino LGBs were underrepresented in mental health or medical treatment and Black LGBs were overrepresented in religious or spiritual treatment. Seeking mental health or medical treatment was not associated with lower odds of a suicide attempt; seeking religious or spiritual treatment was associated with higher odds of a suicide attempt.
The study found that 17% of the LGB people attempted suicide while 8% reported a serious suicide attempt over their lifetime. Surprisingly, the level of suicide attempts was the same for those who sought mental or medical help as with those who did not seek mental or medical intervention. However, there was a greater risk of suicide among those who sought counselling from a religious or spiritual adviser.
Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual adviser were more likely to later attempt suicide.
It is relevant in the discussion of treatment for LGB people to note that many religions have explicit antigay views (Hunsberger, 1996). Despite significant social changes that lead to improving attitudes toward sexual minorities, religiously affiliated people in the United States hold more antigay attitudes than those not affiliated with any religion.
Personally I am not shocked with these findings. LGB people struggle with acceptance issues due to external pressure and negative views about homosexuality. At a time when they need to accept their homosexuality turning to a religiously motivated adviser who will encourage them to reject their sexuality will exacerbate their internal struggle and increase suicidal ideation.