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Study finds alarming rates of suicidal ideation among older transgender adults

Transgender adults aged 50 or older face a significantly elevated risk of contemplating suicide due to the compounding impact of various challenges in different areas of their lives.

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Transgender adults aged 50 or older face a significantly elevated risk of contemplating suicide due to the compounding impact of various challenges in different areas of their lives.

This is according to a study – “Evidence of syndemic effects influencing older transgender persons’ likelihood of contemplating suicide: results from a large national study” by Hugh Klein and Thomas Alex Washington – that appeared in Aging & Mental Health.

The study particularly found that: more than one-fourth (25.8%) of this pool of older transgender people acknowledged having thought about ending their lives at least once the previous year; and this is a much greater prevalence than the 4.7% figure currently estimated for the adult population-at-large and substantially greater than the current estimated prevalence of 11-17% older adults. 

This study, which used data from the 2015 US National Transgender Survey, focused on a sample of 3,724 transgender adults aged 50 or older. More than one-quarter of respondents (25.8%) reported they had seriously contemplated ending their lives within the past year.  

Notably, this number decreased with age, ranging from 31.7% among those aged 50-54 to 12.0% among those aged 70 or older. 

The researchers examined five different areas of potentially-syndemic effects – workplace issues, interactions with professionals, use of public services, personal safety, and socioeconomic disadvantages. They wanted to determine the relationship between experiencing challenges in these areas and the likelihood of suicidal ideation. 

The analysis revealed that all five areas examined significantly increased the odds of older transgender individuals contemplating suicide. The risk was heightened: 

  • by 96% to 121% among those experiencing challenges in any of the areas studied. 
  • by 258% to 1,552%, depending on the specific area, when individuals faced all of the challenges within a particular domain. 

When all syndemic areas were combined, exposure to any of the challenges within an area raised the risk of contemplating suicide by 276%. Exposure to all the challenges examined increased the risk by 861%.  

“This study demonstrates that most older transgender individuals encounter persistent challenges in various domains of their lives, significantly increasing their risk of contemplating suicide. These challenges interact in a syndemic manner, amplifying the risk of suicidal ideation,” said co-author Klein.

For the researchers, there is an “urgent need for targeted support and interventions to reduce the prevalence of suicidal ideation within this vulnerable population.”

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“This underscores the critical need for comprehensive support, advocacy, and mental health resources to address this growing concern,” Washington ended. 

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