Gay Teen Suicides Launch Nationwide LGBT Risk Study

   on October 20 2011 11:48 AM

A nationwide study by University of Arizona and New York University researchers are looking to identify causes for the high risk for suicide by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in North America.

UA and NYU researchers have received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for the study, and over 1,000 LGBT youths ages 15 to 21 are expected to participate, hailing from San Francisco, Calif, Tuscan, Ariz., and New York, NY.

Recruiting for the study starts now, said Stephen Russell, director of UA's Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, and we will follow up every nine months.

The study will compare those who are and are not victims of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and will especially focus on representing the Southwest, often underrepresented in such studies.

Such a study comes as more and more gay teen suicide stories flood everyday media coverage. Some were like Raymond Chase, 19, the fifth teen to commit suicide within a period of three weeks. Some were like Justin Aaberg, 15, one of seven gay students to commit suicide in a single district in Minnesota.

And most, like Seth Walsh, 13, Billy Lucas, 15, Tyler Clementi, 18, Asher Brown, 13, Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, and Jamie Hubley, 15, killed themselves after years of being the victims of gay bullying, almost always at the hands of their peers.

Depending on the data collected, the suicide risk can be two to three times greater for LGBT teens than for their heterosexual peers.

A study conducted in the 1990s, Russell told The Tuscan Sentinel, showed a 7 percent occurrence of suicidal thoughts in heterosexual teens, and a 15 percent occurrence in gay teens.

Often, the psychological factors linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors are feelings of not belonging, of being a burden, and of being completely alone. Jamie Hubley, the only openly gay teen in his Ottawa community, recorded such feelings in his suicide note.

And although increased visibility has done much to de-stigmatize those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, it also opens the chance for LGBT suicidal risk factors to be encountered earlier in life.

For those teens surrounded by identity discrimination and LGBT stigma, NYU professor Arnold Grossman said, the early awareness and disclosure of their sexual orientation can increase the chances of confronting harassment, victimization, and marginalization earlier in life, bullied by family, neighbors, and local kids.

Higher visibility leads to a higher risk of being identified and bullied, but staying in the closet won't help either. The balance between increased awareness of and increased protection for LGBT youth in America is the goal of organizations like the Give a Damn campaign or It Gets Better, an online movement to which bullying victim Jamey Rodemeyer was a contributor before his suicide.

By identifying what triggers the most extreme suicidal behavior and thoughts, and what helps those LGBT teens who don't have suicidal thoughts to cope, Russell and his colleagues will try to create ways for kids to feel they belong, and to stem to gay teen suicide epidemic currently sweeping America.

I really hope, Russell said, that through this study we can identify what makes a difference in schools and families to help LGBT youth.

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