Gay teens at increased risk of suicide

U. PITTSBURGH (US) — Gay teens are almost three times as likely to report attempting a suicide as straight teens, according to a new study.

“We conducted a meta-analysis, which means we combined the results of 18 studies involving more than 100 different comparisons and over 100,000 teenage participants, and we were surprised by the overwhelming consistency of the results,” says Michael P. Marshal, assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Details are reported online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults in the U.S., with the rate of suicide attempts during the lifetime of this population ranging from 1 to 10 percent.

Teen suicide results in approximately 4,500 lives lost each year. The overwhelming majority of teens who make suicide attempts demonstrate mood psychopathology, with depression being the most prevalent disorder.

On average, 28 percent of gay teens reported a history of suicidality compared to 12 percent of heterosexual teens. Suicidality is the tendency of a person to commit suicide.

The studies also show that even after controlling for variables such as depression, low self-esteem, substance use, and conflict with family, gay and lesbian youth were still more than twice as likely to report a history of suicidality as heterosexual youth.

“These results suggest that it is extremely important that health professionals create a clinical environment that makes it easy for gay and lesbian youth to discuss their sexual orientation with their doctors,” Marshal says.

“Doctors and clinics need to emphasize their privacy policies and assure teens that they will not discuss their sexual orientation with parents or caregivers. It also is critical that primary care physicians are trained to screen youth for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and be prepared to help them seek the appropriate treatment services.”

Why being a member of a sexual minority puts a teen at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior is undetermined.

“The vast majority of gay and lesbian teens do not report suicidality and depression. We need to learn more about how gay and lesbian youth manage to stay healthy in the face of a persistent and pervasive homophobic culture.”

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