Gay marriage led to drop in teen suicide attempts

family law

The legalisation of gay marriage led to a significant drop in suicide attempts among American teenagers, a new study has suggested.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision which made same sex marriage available to the whole country, only 36 states granted gay couples the same rights as their heterosexual peers. In each of those states, suicide attempts by high school students fell by an average of seven per cent following the change in the law but before it was allowed nationally. Among teenagers who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual the number dropped by as much as 14 per cent.

These statistics were gathered by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital. They analysed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which collects information from young people across the United States as part of its ‘Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System’.

The authors looked at figures from these surveys between 1999 and 2015, which covered more than 760,000 teenagers. Suicide rates were examined from both before and after the states legalised gay marriage. Researchers compared these rates to the 15 states where same sex couples did not have the right to marry before January 2015 as a control group.

Suicide is the second highest cause of death among people aged 15 and 24 according to the CDC. These numbers are even higher among LGBT youth. Prior to the legalisation of gay marriage, almost nine per cent of American teenagers claimed they had attempted to kill themselves at least once. Meanwhile, more than 28 per cent of LGBT students said they had done the same.

Study co-author Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins University explained that she was motivated to conduct this research by “evidence that there are large disparities across domains of health that affect LGBT adolescents”. She wanted to find out “whether larger structural issues were potentially leading to those disparities”.

There could be a number of reasons for the patterns identified in the study, Raifman suggested. Gay marriage’s approval could “reduce perceived stigma among adolescents” or “drive social change among parents, teachers and peers of sexual minority adolescents”. On the other hand, it could be the campaign for equality rather than legalisation itself which is “responsible for changing the experiences of [LGBT] adolescents”.

The study was published in the academic journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Photo by Per Pettersson via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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