Understanding the processes underlying self-harm ideation and behaviors within LGBTQ+ young people: A qualitative study

A. Jess Williams*, Jon Arcelus, Ellen Townsend, Maria Michail

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This study aims to understand the processes underlying self-harmful thoughts and behaviors, with and without suicidal intent, among LGBTQ+ young people. Method: Nineteen semi-structured interviews took place between October 2019 and May 2020. Participants were aged between 16 and 25 years, had experiences of self-harm ideation and behaviors, and were part of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. A range of sexualities and gender identities were represented: eleven participants were cisgender, six were transgender and two were non-binary. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and anonymised. Thematic analysis and reflective member-checking were used to develop a thematic framework. Results: Three themes were developed from the interviews and evaluated by four participants who engaged with reflective member-checking. Findings indicated that internal processes and external responses to being LGBTQ+ resulted in self-harmful thoughts and behaviors. Alongside these, additional stressors related to being a young person were led to difficulties with self-harm. Conclusions: Findings from this study indicate that young people often struggle with accepting their LGBTQ+ identity for a number of reasons, whether this is due to access to a resource or their own feelings about their identity. These negative self-perceptions can be enhanced by poor responses from others and additional life stressors which impact their self-esteem or self-perception.HIGHLIGHTS Understanding and accepting that one is LGBTQ+ is not always a simple process, struggling with these thoughts can influence self-harm. Lack of LGBTQ+ terminology hinders self-acceptance and caused young people to engage with self-harm. Peers and family members responses to a young people’s LGBTQ+ identity is highly significant and can directly led to self-harmful thoughts and experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-396
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Early online date22 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


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