Same-Sex Marriage May Reduce Teen Suicide Attempts

Gay marriage
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Laws that permit same-sex marriage may help to reduce the rate of teens who attempt suicide, a new report suggests, with the biggest drop found among gay, lesbian and bisexual teens.

The report was based on a national survey of nearly 800,000 U.S. teens, including about 230,000 who were gay, lesbian or bisexual. The researchers found that before such policies were implemented, 8.6 percent of all high school students, and 28.5 percent of high school students who identified as sexual minorities, reported that they had attempted suicide.

But after the implementation of same-sex marriage, the percentage of all high school students who attempted suicide within the past year fell by 0.6 percentage points, and the percentage of gay, lesbian and bisexual students who attempted suicide fell by 4 percentage points. [10 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Teen's Brain]

The new study did not examine the reasons behind this link, but the researchers think  that the same-sex marriage policies might have helped to reduce the perception of stigma among teens who identify as sexual minorities, said lead study author Julia Raifman, an epidemiology researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Previous research has suggested that stigma is the likely reason why teens who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual attempt suicide more frequently, compared with teens who identify as straight.

Moreover, the implementation of such policies may have helped to reduce stigmatizing behaviors, such as rejection from teachers, parents and peers. That lessening of rejection may have contributed to a decrease in suicide attempt rates among teens who identify as sexual minorities, Raifman told Live Science.

In the study, the researchers looked at the rates of teen suicide attempts before and after same-sex marriage was implemented in 32 states. The researchers examined data collected between 1999 and 2015 through a surveillance system that monitors teen suicide attempts. In this survey, about 763,000 teens were asked whether and how many times they had attempted suicide in the past year. This group included 231,413 teens who identified as sexual minorities.

The researchers compared these data with data on state-level same-sex marriage policies, which had been implemented in 32 states by January 2015, and had not been implemented in 15 states by that date. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

The researchers found that, in those states that implemented same-sex marriage policies by January 2015, fewer teens reported attempting suicide within the past year.

Overall, the researchers estimated that "each year, same-sex marriage policies would be associated with more than 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide," according to the study, published today (Feb. 21) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The new results suggest that state laws that affect the lives of people identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual are an important, but previously overlooked, factor involved in the risk of suicide among teens identifying as sexual minorities, Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, an associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University in New York, who was not involved in the study, wrote in a related editorial.

"The legal climate surrounding this population therefore deserves greater attention among medical professionals dedicated to reducing sexual orientation disparities in suicidality among adolescents," Hatzenbuehler wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Staff Writer