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Study links social environment to high attempted suicide rates among gay youth
Date:4/17/2011

NEW YORK In the wake of several highly publicized suicides by gay teenagers, a new study finds that a negative social environment surrounding gay youth is associated with high rates of suicide attempts by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. The study, "The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in a Population-Based Sample of LGB Youth," appears in the April 18 issue of Pediatrics. It was conducted by by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar Mark L. Hatzenbuehler at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

The study of nearly 32,000 11th-grade students in Oregon found that LGB youth were more than five times as likely to have attempted suicide in the previous 12 months, as their heterosexual peers (21.5 percent vs. 4.2 percent). Using a new tool designed to measure social environment, Hatzenbuehler found that LGB youth living in a social environment that was more supportive of gays and lesbians were 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.

Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGB youth attempt suicide at significantly higher rates than heterosexuals. Few studies, however, have examined whether a young person's social environment contributes to the likelihood that he or she will attempt suicide.

Data was drawn from the 2006 and 2008 Oregon Healthy Teens survey, an annual survey of public school students in 8th and 11th grade in Oregon. Sexual orientation is assessed only in 11th grade; participants remain anonymous.

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

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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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