Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the United States for people aged ten to twenty-four. The Trevor Project, an organization that works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth, states that young lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth are particularly affected, attempting suicide at four times the rate of straight youth.
Julia Raifman is a study leader and a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Raifman and her team analyzed thirty-two of the thirty-five states that legalized same-sex marriage between 2004 and 2015, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide.
Raifman’s research found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by seven percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially significant, with suicide attempts falling by fourteen percent. But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.
Raifman told the NewsHour she was interested in studying same-sex marriage laws “as a marker of equal rights in general,” adding that other laws that pertain to LGBT rights, such as employment and housing protections, still vary widely around the country.
The study noted that the laws themselves reflected larger social trends toward support for the LGBT community, a possible factor in the fall in suicide attempts. Raifman said that the decrease was especially concentrated around the time that same-sex marriage laws passed. It is possible that the laws “communicated to young LGB populations that they were equal, and that improved their mental health,” Raifman said. “It’s also possible that increased visibility for same-sex marriage, both in politics and media coverage, increased LGB adolescents’ sense of social support,” she said.
A study published in Pediatrics in 2011, stated that LGB youths were twenty percent more likely to attempt suicide if they were living in unsupportive environments. Raifman said the study suggested a lot of ideas for further research on how different environments can add to, or detract from, the risk for suicide.
“Regardless of political views, I think everyone can agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing,” she said.
The results give more context to the potential effects of social policy on mental health.
Tags: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
, Julia Raifman
, LGBT youth
, LGBTQ youth
, suicide prevention