Legalising same-sex marriage reduces suicide among LGB teens

Researchers say that laws legalising same-sex marriage are associated with a significant reduction in the rate of suicide attempts among LGB young people.

According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, marriage equality policies in US states have led to more than 134,000 fewer adolescent suicide attempts per year.

The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, compared states that passed laws between January 2004 and January 2015 to states that did not enact state-level legalisation. (A Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage federal law in June 2015.)

The findings show the effect that social policies can have on behaviour, the researchers say. “These are high school students, so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” said study leader Julia Raifman, ScD, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School.

“Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights – even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them – that makes students feel less stigmatised and more hopeful for the future.”

Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 in the US (behind unintentional injury). Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) high school students are at particular risk. In a new study, 29 percent of LGB high school students reported attempting suicide in the previous year as compared to six percent of heterosexual teens.

State same-sex marriage legalisation policies were associated with an overall seven percent reduction in suicide attempts among high school students generally. The association was concentrated in sexual minorities, with a 14 percent reduction in suicide attempts among LGB adolescents.

The effects persisted for at least two years. The states that did not implement same-sex marriage saw no reduction in suicide attempts among high school students.

“It’s not easy to be an adolescent, and for adolescents who are just realising they are sexual minorities, it can be even harder – that’s what the data on disparities affecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents tell us,” Raifman explained.

“We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views,” Raifman said. “Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents. The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down.”

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