MONDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Gay youths are much less
likely to attempt suicide when they live in communities where they
feel they have some support, either through gay/lesbian groups at
school or simply because more same-sex couples live in the area,
new research has found.
According to a report published online April 18 in
Pediatrics, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youths who live in a nonsupportive social environment are five times more likely than their "straight" peers to try to kill themselves.
"While there are a small number of prior studies that have demonstrated that school climate makes a difference for LGB students, this study is important because it extends our understanding to the broader surroundings of the community in which students and schools are situated," said Stephen T. Russell, a professor and director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth and Families at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
"The study shows that the population density of same-sex couples ... is a strong and stable measure of the community/school climate and that this has a direct influence on the well-being of LGB youth," added Russell, who was not involved in the study.
According to the study's author, Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, a Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at Columbia University's Mailman
School of Public Health in New York City, "previous studies showed
that gay youth are more likely to attempt suicide."
Real-life experience has backed up that statement. In a
one-month period last fall, the media reported on four incidents in
which LGB youth committed suicide after being bullied because of
their sexual orientation.
In addition, a survey conducted by the New York-based Gay,
Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that nearly nine of
every 10 gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered middle and high
school students said they were physically or verbally bullied in
To help counter this, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who
is gay, launched the "It Gets Better" campaign last September. Its
YouTube site features successful gay adults from all walks of life
talking about their experiences with bullying -- and how they came
Hatzenbuehler's study was "one of the first to examine the role
of environment" in bullying and suicides, instead of focusing on
such individual risk factors as depression, which previous studies
had done, he said.
The study also did not rely on the teens' own perceptions of
their social environment but instead developed a set of five more
objective factors to characterize the environment. They were:
Hatzenbuehler surveyed almost 32,000 11th-grade students in 34
counties in Oregon, 4.4 percent of whom were LGB. He found that
almost 22 percent of LGB youth had attempted suicide in the past
year, compared with only 4.2 percent in the heterosexual
But living in a more supportive environment reduced that risk by
20 percent. A supportive environment was also linked with a 9
percent lower risk for attempted suicide among heterosexual
"This is a road map for how we can begin to reduce suicide attempts among LGB youth," Hatzenbuehler said. "There are three relatively straightforward things we can do. If we allow gay/lesbian alliances in schools and include anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies in student handbooks, we can really reduce suicide attempts."
"Attempting suicide is not something inherent to being gay," he said.
Mental Health American has more on
bullying and gay youths.
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