Support lessens gay youth suicide tries

April 18, 2011 at 8:58 PM
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NEW YORK, April 18 (UPI) -- Gay teens are five times more likely than heterosexual peers to try to kill themselves but the risk drops in a supportive environment, U.S. researchers say.

Mark L. Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York said a study involved nearly 32,000 11th-grade students in Oregon from the 2006 and 2008 Oregon Healthy Teens survey, an annual survey of public school students in eight and 11ths grade in Oregon. Sexual orientation is assessed only in 11th grade.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics found almost 22 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth were reported to have attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, vs. 4 percent of heterosexual peers.

Using a tool designed to measure social environment, Hatzenbuehler found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than similar youth living in less supportive environments.

Hatzenbuehler developed five measures of the social environment including -- proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual students; proportion of schools with Gay-Straight Alliances; proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies; proportion of same-sex couples and proportion of Democrats in the county.

"The results of this study are pretty compelling," Hatzenbuehler said. "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 lesbian, gay and bisexual youth."

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