Fewer teen suicide attempts in states with gay marriage: study

US states that implemented same-sex marriage legislation prior to its legalization at the federal level saw a drop in suicide attempt rates among high school students, new research shows.

States that legalized gay marriage saw a 14 percent decrease in suicide attempts among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, with a seven percent decline among students overall, according to the research published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

The researchers compared 32 of the 35 states that legalized same-sex marriage prior to January 2015 with those that had not. The US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage at the national level in June 2015.

States that did not implement such policies prior to federal legalization did not see suicide attempt rates drop, the study said.

“Permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation,” said study leader Julia Raifman of John Hopkins University.

“There may be something about having equal rights — even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them — that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”

After unintentional injury, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24 in the United States.

The rate of suicide attempts among America’s youth continues to rise, with those cases requiring medical attention jumping by 47 percent between 2009 and 2015.

The study shows that 29 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual students reported having tried to commit suicide in the past 12 months, compared to six percent of heterosexual students.

Researchers used data taken between January 1999 and December 2015, examining trends starting five years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004.

The US Department of Health and Human Services aims to reduce adolescent suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020, as part of its Healthy People 2020 program.

Study authors suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage has helped that effort.

“We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views,” Raifman says. 

“Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents.

“The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down.” DM


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