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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: More Teens Coming Out, But Suicide Attempts Still High

A lot has changed for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer / questioning and others) teens in the last decade. In 2009, they didn’t know if they would be able to go on to marry a same-sex partner (or receive federal benefits if they did), serve openly in the military, lead a Boy Scout troop, become governor or U.S. senator, see themselves represented in an Oscar-winning Best Picture, or run for president.

In an increasingly accepting America, the proportion of high schoolers identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ) doubled from 2009 to 2017, according to a new Boston University School of Public Health study.

But the same study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that LGBQ high schoolers’ rate of attempted suicide, while declining, was almost four times higher than their straight peers’ in 2017.

“Large disparities in suicide attempts persisted even as the percent of students identifying as LGBQ increased. In 2017, more than 20 percent of LGBQ teens reported attempting suicide in the past year,” says study lead author Dr. Julia Raifman, assistant professor of health law, policy & management.

Dr. Raifman says LGBQ rights also play a particularly important role in shaping mental health. In a 2017 study, Dr. Raifman found that legalization of same-sex marriage in a state came with a 7-percent decrease in all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. She notes that other research (including a 2018 study she led) has shown that anti-LGBQ legislation and policies harm the mental health of LGBQ adults and teens.

“Our new paper indicates that an increasing number of teenagers are identifying as LGBQ, and will be affected by anti-LGBQ policies that may elevate these already very high rates of suicide attempts,” she says.

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