Removing the Stigma for LGBTQ Teens

An important new study says that suicide attempts by American high school students decreased by 7 percent in states that passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage. The rate decreased by 14 percent among students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

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“State same-sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts, providing empirical evidence for an association between same-sex marriage policies and mental health outcomes,” said the study, published by JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, on February 20. “We estimated that, each year, same-sex marriage policies would be associated with more than 134 000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide. These results reflect an important reduction in adolescent emotional distress and risk of mortality from suicide.”

The study concluded:

“We provide evidence that implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts. As countries around the world consider enabling or restricting same-sex marriage, we provide evidence that implementing same-sex marriage policies was associated with improved population health. Policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”

Study leader Julia Raifman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health speculated that the same-sex marriage laws diminished a social stigma by making LGBTQ people feel equal and supported by the wider social community.

Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation, told the PBS NewsHour that the feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behaviors. It’s a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years. The prevalence of suicide attempts is four times greater among LGBTQ youth.

The Johns Hopkins study looked at 32 of the 35 states that legalized same-sex marriage between 2004 and 2015, comparing suicide rates in those states to suicide rates in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage. In 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage for all Americans.

Download a PDF of the study here.