Thunder Bay

Ontario coroners to study suicides of gay teens

The Office of the Chief Coroner in Ontario wants a better understanding of the connection between gender identity and youth suicide.

Report looks at link between youth suicide and sexual/gender identity

Giving adolescents struggling with gender identity a sense of belonging will help prevent suicide, observers say. (istock)

The Office of the Chief Coroner in Ontario wants a better understanding of the connection between gender identity and youth suicide.

The annual Paediatric Death Review Committee report released Monday included a special section discussing suicides among youth who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, Two Spirit or queer, or who struggle with sexual with gender identity.

"It's certainly an emerging theme amongst adolescents and one we felt needed specific recognition," said Dr. Dirk Huyer, who chairs the committee.

"We're taking steps to enhance the awareness of this amongst death investigators and that allows us to hopefully have better data to better understand [whether there is] a relationship between this issue and adolescent suicides."

The 2013 report is based on reviews of 64 deaths of children and adolescents in the province. A total of 45 of those deaths were children or youth who were receiving or had received services from Children's Aid within 12 months of their death.

Acceptance key to suicide prevention

The facilitator of 'the Other 10 per cent' LGBQT youth group in Thunder Bay said there is a lot of research already showing that teens who question their gender identity or sexual orientation experience suicidal thoughts.

Julia McArthur said giving those adolescents a sense of belonging will help prevent suicide.

"I think that if people start to learn that this is a normal variance on human gender identity, these youth will start to feel more included."

Some Thunder Bay high schools are now offering students the option of using a gender neutral washroom, and McArthur said that is helping to ease some teens' discomfort. 

Thunder Bay Public Schools' education officer Charlie Bishop said all teachers in the board have received anti-homophobia training and the board recently passed a sexual orientation and gender identity policy.

Stilll, Bishop said cyber bullying of LGBQT youth continues to be a challenge for schools to confront because it "kind of flies under the radar."

Prescription drugs pose danger

Monday's report from the Office of the Chief Coroner also identifies other risks to adolescents and teenagers.

Among the drug-related youth deaths the committee reviewed, it found that prescription drugs were more likely to kill adolescents than illicit drugs.

Huyer said there are often enough prescription pills in a family medicine cabinet to kill a teenager.

"If you've never taken them, you have a low tolerance and the medications that might be prescribed at a higher dose for the relative ... [they] can be fatal to an adolescent who is naive," he said.

The coroner's office said among adolescents, male deaths from drug overdose are more common than female deaths and most cases were classified as accidental.