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Davis writes: "Suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following implementation of same-sex marriage laws, say researchers."

A student rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2014. (photo: Joe Brusk/Flickr)
A student rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2014. (photo: Joe Brusk/Flickr)

Drop in Teenage Suicide Attempts Linked to Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

By Nicola Davis, Guardian UK

20 February 17


Suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following implementation of same-sex marriage laws, say researchers

egalisation of same-sex marriage in US states has been linked to a drop in suicide attempts among teenagers.

Researchers say suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following the implementation of the legislation. The impact was especially significant among gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers, for whom the passing of same-sex marriage laws was linked to a 14% drop in suicide attempts.

Julia Raifman, co-author of the research from Johns Hopkins University, said she hoped the research would help to draw wider attention to the scale of the issue among sexual minorities. “I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affecting LGBT rights,” she added.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 24, with suicide rates much higher among those who identify as sexual minorities than heterosexual students.

“This study was really motivated by evidence that there are large disparities across domains of health that affect LGBT adolescents,” said Raifman. “I was interested in whether larger structural issues were potentially leading to those disparities.”

p>In an attempt to unpick the possibility, Raifman and colleagues focused on the impact of same-sex marriage legislation. In 2004 Massachusetts became the first US state to legalise same-sex marriage. Another 36 states then followed before the policy became federal law in June 2015.

Published in the journal Jama Pediatrics by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital, the study scrutinised data collected by the CDC as part of its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System – a survey conducted every two years.

The team analysed figures from more than 760,000 students collected between 1999 and 2015, with data for states that passed a same-sex marriage law examined before and after the event – an approach, the researchers say, that took into account a host of differences existing between the states.

In total the data covered 32 of the 35 states that had passed legislation to legalise same-sex marriage by 1 January 2015. The change in the rate of suicide attempts was then compared to that seen for the 15 states that did not.

The analysis revealed that in the years before same-sex marriage became legal, the self-reported rate of one or more suicide attempts among high school students across all states was, on average, around 8.6% per year, with the figure reaching 28.5% among those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or “not sure”. Students were not specifically asked if they identified as transgender, queer or intersex.

Overall, states that legalised same-sex marriage saw attempted suicide rates fall by 0.6 percentage points against states that did not, corresponding to an average drop of 7%. The effect was found to last for at least two years after the law was passed. No drop in suicide attempts was found in states that did not enact the laws.

The trend, it seems, was largely the result of fewer suicide attempts by LGB teenagers. In states where same-sex marriage legalisation was passed, suicide attempts fell by four percentage points on average, corresponding to a 14% drop compared to states where it was not.

“When we do focus on LGB adolescents it does the seem the effect is concentrated in that population,” said Raifman.

However, Raifman cautions that the analysis had its limitations, not least that fewer than half the states collected data on sexual orientation both before and after passing legislation, while the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation might have had an impact on how individuals responded to questions around their sexual orientation.

The authors note that, while further analysis confirmed that it was events around the time that state legislation was passed that affected the rate of suicide attempts by high school students, the factors behind the effect remain unclear.

“There are a number of potential mechanisms,” said Raifman. “Those include whether the policies themselves reduce perceived stigma among adolescents – and that may drive reductions in suicide attempts – but it is also possible that same-sex marriage policies drive social change among parents, teachers and peers of sexual minority adolescents. It is also possible that the campaigns around same-sex marriage policies are responsible for changing the experiences of LGB adolescents.”

Danuta Wasserman, professor in psychiatry and suicidology at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, said that the results of the research tally with studies from Europe which have revealed that suicide attempts are more common among adolescents who have concerns about their sexual orientation. The reduction in suicide attempts shown by the new study is, Wasserman says, “very promising”.

Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth and Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign, said that the connection between mental health in young people and the social and political environment made sense. “When LGBTQ young people don’t feel safe, protected, or valued in their own community, when they don’t feel they can be fully out and authentic – that adds an emotional burden to bear,” she said.

The suicide rate among teens identifying as sexual minorities, she added, signals a public health emergency. “LGBTQ youth are incredibly vulnerable to parental rejection, bullying and harassment at school, and lack of social support,” said Kahn. “What we can learn from this study, and what we know from hearing directly from LGBTQ youth, is that the convergence of a supportive family, a safe and welcoming school, legal protections, and being equal in the eyes of the law can provide the foundation necessary to thrive and flourish into adulthood.” your social media marketing partner


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0 # Dann.Dobson 2017-02-20 22:09
This is wonderful news.
+1 # AJNorth 2017-02-20 23:27
Needless to say, Focus On the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the myriad other "family values" organizations -- including a not insubstantial number of churches -- that call themselves "Christian," but about which there is nothing -- NOTHING -- remotely Christ-like, will ridicule and condemn this report. Along with the president-in-wa iting, Mike Pence.
+2 # CDMR 2017-02-21 07:31
If true, this is good. But it seems a stretch to me to jump to this conclusion. A more important cause would seem to be the increasing visibility of LGBTQ issues. Young people or anyone can much more easily sexually identify now out in the open. They are not so isolated. This opennesss is more prominent in the lives of teens than marriage.

Anyway, any drop in suicide or attempted suicide is good.
0 # lfeuille 2017-02-21 19:41
It could just be the legalization occurred concurrently with more societal acceptance of gays in general which would have led to an improvement in their daily life. I hope that they are not lining up to get married before they graduate high school.
+2 # REDPILLED 2017-02-21 09:02
VP Pence will most likely deny this fact the way he denies that smoking kills and climate change is real.

Facts do not matter to zealots, especially religious zealots such as Pence.

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