There’s been a drop in teen suicide attempts since the legalization of same-sex marriage
After a long-winded battle, in 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states, with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating that the constitution allows for same-sex couples to “find [marriage’s] fulfillment for themselves.”
Now, new research points that suicide attempt rates among high schoolers fell by 7% since the ruling. Analyzing data collected between 1999 and 2015, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students there was a 14% decline in suicide attempts.
As has been widely reported, The Trevor Project states suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged between 10 and 24. What’s more, sexual minorities are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and are “four to six times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.” What’s more, according to USA Today, 29% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported attempting suicide in the last 12 months in 2015, compared to just 6% of their heterosexual peers.
Speaking to The Guardian, Julia Raifman, co-author of the research, said that she hoped the study would be a wakeup call to policy makers to the struggles of sexual minorities.
“This study was really motivated by evidence that there are large disparities across domains of health that affect LGBT adolescents, she said. "I was interested in whether larger structural issues were potentially leading to those disparities.
Continuing, she added: “I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affecting LGBT rights.”
The research analyzed data of 760,000 students collected by the CDC as part of its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System between the years 1999 and 2015, looking at figures from before and after states implemented same-sex marriage laws. The data covered 32 of the 35 states that enacted same-sex marriage laws before January 1st 2015, and compared it to data from remaining 15 that did not.
The research noted that in the years prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the self-reported rates of suicide attempts among high school aged students was, on average, 8.6% per year. Those figure reached to 28.5% among those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual.
Those states that did legalize same-sex marriage saw a fall in suicide attempts of 0.8%, which averages at around a 7% drop, something that was found to last at least two years after the fact. In comparison, those states that did not legalize same-sex marriage found that there was no drop. The report suggests that this was mainly down to the reduce rate of LGB suicide attempts, which averaged at a drop of 14% compared to states that did not enact same-sex marriage laws.
However, Raifman was quick to add that the report was by no means conclusive, noting that there was more research to be done, including taking into account the socio-economic backgrounds of respondents, religious affiliation, acceptance of sexual minorities by family members, and that the data comes from self-reported incidents only.
“There are a number of potential mechanisms,” she said. “Those include whether the policies themselves reduce perceived stigma among adolescents – and that may drive reductions in suicide attempts – but it is also possible that same-sex marriage policies drive social change among parents, teachers and peers of sexual minority adolescents. It is also possible that the campaigns around same-sex marriage policies are responsible for changing the experiences of LGB adolescents.”
The figures, it seems, also support research conduct in Europe, with Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth and Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign stating that it was logical that there was a link between social policy and mental health in young people.
“When LGBTQ young people don’t feel safe, protected, or valued in their own community, when they don’t feel they can be fully out and authentic – that adds an emotional burden to bear,” Kahn said.
“LGBTQ youth are incredibly vulnerable to parental rejection, bullying and harassment at school, and lack of social support,” she continued. “What we can learn from this study, and what we know from hearing directly from LGBTQ youth, is that the convergence of a supportive family, a safe and welcoming school, legal protections, and being equal in the eyes of the law can provide the foundation necessary to thrive and flourish into adulthood.”
As we move into uncertain territory when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities, studies like this are important at reminding government that their actions have consequences that impact the safety and wellbeing of all kinds of individuals. Hopefully, we’ll begin to see a move towards more acceptance and inclusivity as things progress forward.