Unsurprisingly, a new study has confirmed that an anti-gay social environment is linked to a higher rate of suicide attempts by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth.
The study comes in the wake of several highly publicised suicides by gay teenagers in the US.
It was conducted by Mark L. Hatzenbuehler at Columbia University and appears in the April 18 issue of Pediatrics.
The study of nearly 32,000 11th-grade students in Oregon found that LGB youth were more than five times as likely to have attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, as their heterosexual peers (21.5 percent vs. 4.2 percent).
Using a new tool designed to measure social environment, Hatzenbuehler found that LGB youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.
Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGB youth attempt suicide at significantly higher rates than heterosexuals. Few studies, however, have examined whether a young person’s social environment contributes to the likelihood that he or she will attempt suicide.
“The results of this study are pretty compelling,” said Hatzenbuehler. “When communities support their gay young people, and schools adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempted suicide by all young people drops, especially for LGB youth.”
The study found that a more supportive social environment was associated with 20 percent fewer suicide attempts than an unsupportive environment. A supportive environment was also associated with a 9% lower rate of attempted suicide among heterosexual students.
“The good news is that this study suggests a road map for how we can reduce suicide attempts among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth,” Hatzenbuehler said. Unfortunately, he notes, some communities are heading in the wrong direction. He points to Utah, where school-based Gay-Straight Alliances—student groups that work toward increasing tolerance between homosexual and heterosexual youth—have come under attack.
“This study shows that the creation of school climates that are good for gay youth can lead to better health outcomes for all young people,” said Hatzenbuehler.