A new research project will explore the effectiveness of a popular suicide hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youths, providing guidance on how to enhance its services.
Led by Assistant Professor Jeremy Goldbach from the USC School of Social Work, the one-year, $168,000 initiative will evaluate the Trevor Project, which offers a crisis hotline and chat and text-messaging services to young LGBTQ individuals who are contemplating suicide.
Suicidality among LGBTQ kids is between four and seven times higher than among their heterosexual peers.
“Suicidality among LGBTQ kids is between four and seven times higher than among their heterosexual peers,” Goldbach said, noting that an estimated 45 percent of sexual minority youths have seriously considered or attempted suicide. “It’s a disparity that demands attention.”
Considered the leading crisis intervention and suicide prevention provider for LGBTQ youths in the United States, the project’s crisis team engages in more than 50,000 interactions with individuals between 13 and 24 years old each year.
Goldbach and his colleagues, including Michael Marshal from the University of Pittsburgh and Sheree Schrager from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, hope to find ways to improve the organization’s crisis and referral services and tailor a model of suicide intervention specific to LGBTQ individuals.
The researchers will follow 600 randomly selected individuals, 200 from each service offered by the Trevor Project (phone line, chat and text messaging), to assess various risk and protective factors via online surveys immediately after participants contact the organization and one month later.
“We’ll look at some of the traditional suicide-related factors, such as intent and means to commit suicide and feelings of hopelessness, but we will also explore identity-related factors such as family rejection, presence of supportive peers, meaningful connection with organizations in the gay community and internalized homophobia,” Goldbach said. “Hopefully we see improvements in all of these things and with these improvements will be lower suicidality.”
‘Working in the dark’
In addition to offering suggestions for enhancements to the project’s approach, Goldbach is hopeful the project will lead to additional research initiatives and improve knowledge about how to mitigate the link between stressful experiences of LGBTQ youths and the disproportionate rate of suicide attempts in the population.
He is particularly interested in the experiences of adolescents who don’t identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender but nonetheless are questioning their sexual identity.
“How do you recruit someone who isn’t out?” Goldbach asked, referring to individuals who have not publicly disclosed or personally acknowledged their sexual minority status. “This is a group that has very little voice, and we make a lot of assumptions about their needs. Until we ask them directly, we really are just working in the dark.”