Sexual minority adults experience fivefold greater risk of suicide attempt, as compared with heterosexuals. Establishing age-specific epidemiological patterns of suicide is a prerequisite to planning interventions to redress the sexual orientation suicide inequity, and such patterns must be carefully interpreted in light of correlated period and cohort effects. We, therefore, combined US and Canadian data (1985–2017) from primary (two pooled multi-year national surveys, N = 15,477 and N = 126,463) and secondary (published, meta-analytic, N = 122,966) sources to separately estimate age, period, and cohort trends in self-reported suicide attempts among sexual minorities.
Age- and gender-stratified cross-sectional data were used to infer age and cohort effects. Age-collapsed meta-analyzed data were used to infer period effects among sexual minorities of all genders.
We identified a bimodal age distribution in recent suicide attempts for sexual minorities across genders, though more pronounced among sexual minority men: one peak in adolescence (18–20 years of age for both genders) and one peak nearing mid-life (30–35 years of age for men; 35–40 years of age for women). This pattern was also apparent using recall data within birth cohorts of sexual minority men, suggesting it is not an artifact of birth cohort effects. Finally, we observed decreasing trends in lifetime suicide attempt prevalence estimates for both sexual minorities and heterosexuals, though these decreases did not affect the magnitude of the sexual orientation disparity.
In the context of exclusively adolescent-focused suicide prevention interventions for sexual minorities, tailored suicide prevention for sexual minority adults should be pursued throughout the life course.