Where same-sex marriage is legal, fewer teens attempt suicide

Just being a teenager is hard enough.
Just being a teenager is hard enough.
Image: Reuters/Jianan Yu
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The US government wants to reduce teen suicide rates—the second most common cause of death among this age group. The question is what legislation could have the biggest impact.

A new study points to policies affecting the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, reported a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide after states implemented same-sex marriage policies. For LGB students, the study found a 14% decline for LGB teens attempting suicide after the state legalized same-sex marriage. This would be equivalent to more than 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year based on the US population, according to the study.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and Boston Children’s Hospital compared teen suicide attempts between the 32 US states that implemented same-sex marriage to the 15 states that didn’t by Jan. 1, 2015 (the US supreme court then made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in June 2015).

The findings highlight the stark health disparity that exists between LGB (teens were only asked if they identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or “not sure”) and heterosexual students. While 29% of LGB teens report one or more suicide attempts before same-sex legislation became legal, the figure for their heterosexual counterparts was only 6%.

The study has some clear limitations; it shows a correlation rather than a casual relationship between same-sex marriage policies and suicide. And the data was based on self-reported data by teenagers; it fails to account for teenagers who don’t report suicide attempts. The researchers didn’t attempt to answer why teens, particularly LGBT teens, were attempting suicide or why same-sex marriage policy reduced suicide attempts. They did, however, speculate that states that promote equal rights could affect stigma in schools and at home. Researchers note in the study that “policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”