Q&A: Tackling suicide in the gay and transgender community

Summary

Two master’s students at UGent have been awarded a prize for their investigations into suicidal behaviour among gay and transgender people, which revealed some worrying trends

Vulnerable groups

In their master’s thesis at Ghent University, Jana Missiaen and Heiderike Seynaeve examined suicidal tendencies among gay and transgender people in Flanders. The university awarded them the annual DiverGent prize for most innovative thesis on the topic of gender or diversity. Missiaen (pictured, left) explains their findings.

How vulnerable are these groups to suicide?
They are still much more vulnerable than we thought; we were shocked by the results of our survey. We found that 22% of gay people and 39% of transgender people have attempted suicide at least once, while about 65% of gay people and 80% of transgender people have thought about taking their own life.

What are the main risk factors?
A large part of the problem is that people don’t talk about their problems and don’t look for help. We also found that a mother’s reaction during the coming-out process has a crucial impact. Experience of homophobic or transphobic aggression, which can be verbal or physical, is a major factor as well. And this aggression is widespread: About 66% of the gay people and 74% of the transgender people we surveyed have been a victim of it.

How can the situation be improved?
From a young age, children should be made aware of different sexual orientations – at school, through children’s books and via the media – to ensure they understand that these orientations are all normal.

Associations representing gay and transgender people should receive more support so that people at risk can be more quickly identified and helped, and action should be taken in general to ensure people can talk more easily about psychological problems. We also feel that transphobic aggression should be punished more severely, and measures need to be taken to better protect people at work and school.

How have policymakers reacted?
Flemish welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen will use our recommendations to fine-tune Flanders’ action plan for suicide prevention. Our findings can help them to take more targeted action and should encourage the government to make the current tools, like the suicide prevention hotline 1813, better known among gay and transgender people.

Photo: Hilde Christiaens/UGent

Ghent University

Ghent University (UGent) is one of Flanders’ most pluralistic and liberal institutions of higher education, and its motto has long been “dare to think”. UGent is renowned for its research in bio and life sciences.
Latin - UGent was originally founded as a Latin-speaking state university by the Dutch king William I.
Nobel - Corneel Heymans, the only Fleming to have won a Nobel Prize, studied at the university.
Autonomy - UGent is the largest employer in East Flanders.
410

million euros in annual revenue

1 882

first female student admitted

1 930

Dutch becomes university’s official language