Homosexual Teen Suicide Rates Raised in Bad Environments

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, but a supportive environment in their schools and communities can make a difference, new research suggests.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults from ages 15 to 24, and lesbian, gay and bisexual teens (LGB) youth are more likely to attempt suicide, according to the researchers.

The study researchers led by Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University polled more than 30,000 11th graders in different counties in Oregon. Results showed that about 20 percent of LGB teens attempted suicide in the 12 months before the survey, while only about 4 percent of heterosexual teens had. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

The researchers also looked at the environments surrounding the students. They studied school-level initiatives, like LGB-specific anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, school-based gay-straight alliances (student groups that work toward increasing tolerance between homosexual and heterosexual youth), abundance of same-sex couples in the area and the political leanings of the county.

LGB youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians — for instance, having more anti-discrimination policies — were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in less-supportive environments. Surprisingly, a supportive environment was also linked to 9 percent fewer attempted suicides in heterosexual teens.

"The results of this study are pretty compelling," Hatzenbuehler said in a statement. "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."

A study out last year found that parental support could also go a long way for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens. Published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, the study found specific parental behaviors, such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated due to their LGBT identity and supporting their teen's gender expression, were linked to a lower likelihood of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood.

Schools can help by initiating and supporting these types of policies and supporting gay-straight alliances. "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. "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."

The study is published in the April 18 issues of the journal Pediatrics.

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Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.