Monday, April 18, 2011

Study Links Social Environment and LGB Youth Suicide

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual teens are five times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide. Now a new study conducted by a Columbia University researcher has linked higher LGB youth suicide rates to less tolerant social environments.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics this morning, conducted an anonymous survey of 31,852 11th graders in Oregon during 2006 and 2008. Reuters reports:
The findings, published online today in Pediatrics, showed that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens living in counties with a high proportion of gay and lesbian couples, and those who went to schools with gay-straight alliances and anti-discrimination policies, were less likely to attempt suicide than LGB teens living in less accepting environments.

The finding is "a call to action in providing a roadmap for how we can begin to reduce suicide in LGB youth," Mark Hatzenbuehler, the study's author from Columbia University in New York, told Reuters Health.

He said that while previous studies have shown that LGB teens are more likely to attempt suicide, those studies haven't been able to determine why exactly that's the case.

Hatzenbuehler used data from 3 years of health surveys given to teens in Oregon. The data covered more than 30,000 high school students across the state, all surveyed during 11th grade.

Teens answered questions about depression, alcohol use, and relationships with their peers and family, as well as their sexuality.

To evaluate teens' social environments, Hatzenbuehler gave each of the 34 counties where survey participants lived a score based on the proportion of same-sex couples living there, the county's percentage of registered Democrats, and the proportion of schools in the area that had gay-straight alliances and anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies.

About 1400 -- or between 4 and 5 percent -- of teens surveyed identified themselves as being gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Of those students, almost 22 kids out of every hundred said they had attempted suicide in the past year. That compared to about 4 of every hundred teens who identified as straight and said they had attempted suicide.

Suicide attempts were more common in LGB teens who reported being depressed and binge drinking, as well as those who had been victimized by their peers or physically abused by an adult.

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