Between 2009 and 2017, the number of teens identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning doubled in the U.S., according to a new study from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).
But the attempted suicide rate of this group remained steady, going from five times the rate of their straight peers to nearly four times, highlighting the urgent need to support a vulnerable group as it transitions into adulthood.
“Large disparities in suicide attempts persisted even as the percent of students identifying as LGBQ increased,” Dr. Julia Raifman, assistant professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH and paper author said in a statement.
“In 2017, more than 20 per cent of LGBQ teens reported attempting suicide in the past year. It’s critical that health and educational institutions have policies and programs in place to protect and improve LGBQ health, such as medical school curricula and high school health curricula that are inclusive of sexual minority health.”
Past research suggests LGBTQ college students are four times more likely to suffer from mental health issues compared to the general student population.
“Mental health outcomes, as well as negative educational outcomes like dropping out, are preventable,” said Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy and management, and lead author of an August 2019 paper on the subject.
“The most effective way to prevent them would be, from my perspective, through policy changes. Inclusive policies are necessary to advance equity.”
Inclusion improves mental health
Raifman says LGBTQ-inclusive rights play an “important role” in mental health. In a 2017 study in which Raifman participated, for example, it was found the legalization of same-sex marriage reduced all high school suicide attempts by roughly 7 per cent.
Another study bolstering this claim was published in December 2019. In it, researchers found that a supportive family environment makes LGBTQ children less likely to be victims of bullying, likely because acceptance helps children develop a healthy sense of self and well being.
Not enough research on LGBTQ teens
Currently, there aren’t enough studies on substance use, mental health conditions, and the victimization of LGBTQ youth to fully support them, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh.
Scientists say a lack of study in this area limits the validity of the existing papers, posing an added challenge to researchers and policymakers attempting to support this population segment.
When compared to heterosexual, cisgender peers, LGBTQ youth are up to 623 per cent more likely to use substances in their lifetimes, up to 317 per cent more likely to suffer from mental health conditions, and are up to 280 per cent more likely to be a victim of bullying or abuse, according to a paper published in AAP News & Journals.
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