Gay Teen Suicide Rate Lower in Supportive Communities, Study Finds

Filed under: In The News, Teen Culture, Research Reveals: Teens

gay teen suicide

Gay teens have it easier in some areas than in others. Credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Being a gay or lesbian teenager is always hard, but where you live and the kind of support you get makes a difference that researchers are now able to express in numbers.

The Los Angeles Times reports researchers from Columbia University surveyed 31,852 Oregon high school juniors, asking them about their sexual orientation, drinking habits and history (if any) of suicide attempts.

Researchers then scored 34 of the state's 36 counties on the number of same-sex couples in the community and number of registered Democrats. They also looked at whether or not schools have gay-straight alliance groups and anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies.

In terms of hard numbers, 25 percent of homosexual students tried -- at least once -- to commit suicide in negative environments. That number dipped to 20 percent in more positive environments.

By the way, only 4 percent of straight kids try to kill themselves, regardless of their surroundings.

The Times reports researchers made their conclusions after adjusting for suicide risks not associated with sexual orientation such as depression, alcohol use and physical abuse.

"The social environment appears to confer risk for suicide attempts over and above individual-level risk factors," researchers wrote in their conclusion. "These results have important implications for the development of policies and interventions to reduce sexual orientation–related disparities in suicide attempts."

So, does this mean schools' anti-bullying measures are working? Researchers don't go that far. The percentages may be the result of other factors, they tell the Times.

"I think there are many reasons schools should provide better environments for any kid, not just LGBT kids," Brett Thombs, a researcher in psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, tells the Times. He wasn't involved in the research, but has studied suicide risk in homosexual kids.

"Whether or not they would change suicide risk is a different question," he adds. "The schools may be reflecting the community around them."

Positive environments for homosexual kids also seem to help their heterosexual peers. The Times reports researchers found straight kids were 9 percent more likely to try to kill themselves in negative environments.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.