February 14th, 2012
01:01 PM ET
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.
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.
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