Four-Decade Study in Denmark Shows Higher Suicide Rates Among Transgender People

Trans suicide

A study in Denmark that spanned 40 years and included 6.6 million people found that those who identified as transgender have significantly higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide than others in the population. These results are similar to what research has found here, though the U.S. doesn’t collect the same level of data as Denmark which makes large-scale population studies like this impossible.

The Danish study included 3,759 people who identified as transgender. Among them, there were 92 suicide attempts and 12 suicides between 1980 and 2021. While these numbers seem small, they suggest that the rate of suicide attempts among those who identify as trans is 7.7 times higher than the rate of suicide attempts in the broader Danish population and the rate of suicide deaths is 3.5 times higher.

In addition, the researchers believe these numbers are an undercount because the records they used don’t always capture a person’s gender identity. The authors note that they only had data on gender identity for those who sought gender affirming care at a hospital or applied for a legal change of gender. Such data suggest that 0.6% of Denmark’s population identifies as transgender, but researchers believe the true number is much higher, which would mean the suicide rate would also be much higher.

The study can’t explain why trans people are at higher risk of suicide, but it seems clear that living in a society that is often unaccepting is a contributing factor. Previous research has found that 60% of transgender individuals in Denmark have experienced harassment and bullying and that 30% have experienced violence. Trans people in that country have also said they face discrimination in the healthcare system.

While we don’t have the population data that Denmark does (sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in reports of violent death, for example), research here has found higher rates of suicide and suicidal thoughts in trans people, especially youth. The Trevor Project’s 2023 US National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People found that over half of trans or nonbinary youth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year, and about 20% had attempted suicide in the previous year.

The Danish study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and clearly has implications for the United States at a time when legislatures across this country are debating laws targeting trans people, especially trans youth. There have been 569 pieces of anti-trans legislation introduced in state houses across the country in 2023 alone (79 have passed, 123 have failed, and 353 remain active meaning they still have a chance of passing). The laws have attempted to dictate bathroom use, prevent young people from playing sports, and ban much-needed health care for young people and adults. Some laws threaten to take trans children away from parents who support their gender transition.

Experts say these laws put trans people at even greater risk of mental health issues, including suicidality. While we know that denying gender affirming care will have immediate impacts on the mental and physical health of people who rely on it, a recent study in published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy tried to understand the holistic harm these bills might do. The researchers interviewed trans adults and young people and found that regardless of where they lived, perceived support for such legislation was associated with greater rumination, depressive symptoms, physical health symptoms, and fear of disclosing one’s identity.

Leah Dhanani, an industrial-organizational psychologist who co-authored the study, said: “Our findings show that it’s not enough to say ‘under these bills, if they were passed, X number of trans people wouldn’t have access to gender-affirming care.’ What we actually find is that everyone who is a member of the trans community is at risk of being harmed, simply because these bills exist—simply because people are spending time and engaging in rhetoric around the trans community that is stigmatizing, because they’re signaling that these folks don’t have the rights that other folks have.”

J. Dennis Fortenberry, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and former ASHA board member told us, “The careless and heartless indifference associated with these laws has already exacted a tremendous toll of distress and additional marginalization on the health and wellbeing of gender diverse young people. We are only beginning to see the evidence of the irreparable harms associated with these laws.”

Cathy Renna, communications director for The National LGBTQ Taskforce agreed. She told ASHA, “The epidemic of anti-trans laws has created a climate of transphobia that is putting the lives of trans youth and adults at risk. The amount of misinformation and junk science being put out by a small group of anti-trans activists much be confronted and combated, or we will continue to lose precious lives.”

Additional Resources