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Family support a major weapon against suicide among gay youth
February 14th, 2012
01:01 PM ET

Family support a major weapon against suicide among gay youth

Being a teenager can be difficult. The progression from childhood to adulthood involves negotiating the difficult gauntlet of peer pressure, trying to fit in among people who aren't entirely sure of themselves, all while dealing with raging hormones.

Few people escape the teen years without emotional scars.

Not surprisingly, suicide is a major adolescent health concern - in fact, it's the third major cause of death among U.S. teens, after unintentional injury and homicide. Those numbers are even higher for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) teens.

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine sought to determine the risk factors and protective factors for LGBT teens and suicide, finding that love and acceptance by family and friends are key suicide preventive factors.

“A major risk factor for suicide among these young people is to have experienced some kind of victimization regarding their sexuality,” said lead author Brian Mustanski, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg Schoool of Medicine. “Victimization can include bullying, destruction of property, and name calling.”

While other research has looked at suicide risk factors among LGBT persons, Mustanski says that his study is important because it’s the first longitudinal look at risk factors for suicide among LGBT youth.

Their study looked at 246 LGBT youth, ages 16 to 20 in the Chicago area. The youths completed structured interviews at the beginning and every six months over a two and a half year period. The participants were asked about their social support systems, whether they had attempted suicide, and questions about impulsiveness, victimization for their sexual orientation, nonconformity and mood.

The researchers found that LGBT subjects who had experienced victimization over time had an associated risk for thinking about suicide and self harm. Sensation seeking qualities were not associated with suicidal thoughts among the LGBT subjects.

The strongest predictor of self harm was previous suicide attempts, but LGBT victimization was the second largest predictor of self harm, more than doubling the risk. Teens with supportive family and friends were less likely to act upon suicidal thoughts.

Mustanski, a clinical psychologist, stressed the importance for parents to be accepting when an LGBT child comes out to parents. When parents tell their teens that they love them no matter what, that opens the door for good communication and support rather than judgement. He also notes that parents need to be aware of the possibility that their child may be bullied and to work to prevent that from happening.

There are many resources available for teens, parents, and schools who are seeking support working with LGBT youth:

The It Gets Better Project offers messages of encouragement for LGBT young people who are facing challenges with their sexuality.

The Trevor Project, which is tied to The It Gets Better Project, offers an anonymous help line at 866-488-7386.

PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays offers resources for teaching family and friends about the gay and lesbian community.

Schools can visit the Safe Schools Coalition and Gay Straight Alliance Network, which aim to help reduce bullying in schools.


soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Matty Fo Fatty

    Really? This is newsworthy, let alone necessitated a study? So love and acceptance at home deters suicide in gay youth, huh? Wow.

    In the spirit of discovering that gay kids need love, too, here are other revelations to consider:
    Eating reduces the chance of starving to death.
    Brushing your teeth cleans them.
    Slower traffic keep right.
    News is frustrating.
    Posting comments on CNN is a waste of my time.

    Class dismissed.

    February 16, 2012 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. dalis

    Try growing up in a household as a gay kid whose parents think it is their religious duty to condemn hom-se-xuality. I can tell you that support won't be there, and whatever shred of self esteem you had will be gone. It's worse than being disowned.

    February 16, 2012 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.