The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

Lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) teens were more likely to attempt suicide in the past 12 months compared to heterosexuals (21.5% versus 4.2%), this Columbia University researcher found. The social environment surrounding LGB youth—rather than individual factors—contributes to this higher risk of suicide attempts.

While other studies have identified social risk factors of suicide attempts, they have relied on self-reported measures of the social environment. This population-based study used a sample of 31,852 11th graders (297 schools in 34 counties) from the Oregon Healthy Teens survey to examine the association between social environment and suicide attempts.

Some 90 percent identified as heterosexual, 1 percent as gay or lesbian and 3 percent as bisexual (2% unsure, others did not answer).

The social environment surrounding LGB youth was described per county by the proportion of same-sex couples, Democrats, schools with Gay Straight Alliances, and schools with anti-bullying and anti-discrimination LGB policies. Participants were asked the number of times they attempted suicide during the past 12 months.

The probability of suicide attempts differed markedly for LGBs as a function of the social environment—20 percent greater in a negative environment as compared to a positive one.