Improving the Social Environment, and Lives, of Youth

Sep 29, 2011, 12:00 PM, Posted by

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, last week participated in a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) panel on bullying and suicide among youth. His topic: how these issues affect lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) teenagers, and how schools and communities can create more positive, supportive environments for youth.

Last spring Hatzenbuehler published a study in Pediatrics that found the social environment surrounding a young person has a significant impact on their risk for attempting suicide, regardless of their individual risk factors. Hatzenbuehler created an index, using five criteria that previous research had shown to be important to the LGB community, to assess each participating county’s level of supportiveness towards gays and lesbians. Based on data from the Oregon Healthy Teens Study, he found that in a negative environment an LGB youth’s likelihood of attempting suicide was 20 percent higher than it was in a supportive environment. Similarly, a heterosexual youth’s likelihood of attempting suicide was nine percent higher in a negative social environment than a positive one.

The CDC is in the process of developing a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health that outlines steps that policy-makers, teachers, health professionals and others can take to improve the lives of our nation’s youth. Hatzenbuehler’s article on anti-bullying policies and suicide attempts among LGB youth will be included in this special issue.

What do you think? What steps can health professionals, schools, policy-makers and other community members take to reduce bullying and youth suicide? Register below to leave a comment.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.