Negative Social Environment Related to Suicide Attempts Among LGB Youth

014-smAn analysis of population-based data in Oregon revealed that living in environments that are less supportive of gays and lesbians is associated with greater suicide attempts among LGB youth. Consistent with previous research demonstrating a higher risk of suicide attempts in LGB youth, the study also found that Oregon LGB teens were significantly more likely to have attempted suicide in the past 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%)

The researchers combined an analysis of data from the Oregon Healthy Teens (OHT) Survey from 2006-2008 with analysis of measures of the social environment, examining differences in the social environment at the county level. The index of the social environment included 5 different items. Each of the 34 Oregon counties that were included in the OHT surveys received a value for each of the 5 items:

    • Proportion of same-sex couples living in the counties
    • Proportion of Democrats living in the counties
    • Proportion of schools with gay-straight alliances
    • Proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting LGB students
    • Proportion of schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation

As demonstrated in the graph above, the risk of attempting suicide among LGB youth was 20% greater in negative environments compared with positive environments (25.47% of LGB living in negative environments attempted suicide at least once versus 20.37% in positive environments). Among heterosexual youth, the risk of suicide attempts was 9% greater in negative environments.
(Source: Hatzenbuehler, M. L., 2011, “The social environment and suicide attempts in lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth,” Pediatrics, Volume 127, Issue 5, pp. 896-903.)

For Further Thought

  • What are the implications of this study for prevention of suicide attempts among LGB youth?
  • Aside from the 5 items used to create the social environment index, what other factors would you hypothesize to be associated with a negative social environment for LGBs?
  • Why might a negative climate for LGB students also impact the risk of suicide attempts for heterosexual youths?