Bullying a Strong Risk Factor for Suicide in Gay Youth:
TUESDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- New research confirms the
trend of disturbing headlines that have appeared in media reports
in the past two years:
-- For Many Gay Youth, Bullying Exacts a Deadly Toll
-- Gay Buffalo Teen Commits Suicide on Eve of National Bullying
-- Tennessee Teen Commits Suicide After Years Of Anti-Gay
-- Indiana Teen Commits Suicide After Anti-Gay Bullying at
As seemingly damning as the headlines may be, the results of the
study don't prove that harassment directly causes young gay people
to become suicidal or hurt themselves. Still, the research is the
first to show what happens over time to teens who are bullied and
victimized, said study co-author Brian Mustanski, an associate
professor at Northwestern University's Department of Medical Social
It may seem obvious that bullying and a lack of support from
loved ones would make people more suicidal. But "sometimes the
things that we think are important still have to get confirmed with
science," Mustanski said.
"It's surprising how negative those effects are," he added. "Victimization turned out to be really important. It was far and away the most important risk factor."
Previous research has suggested that gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender (LGBT) children are more likely to be suicidal and hurt
themselves. A study released in the journal
Developmental Psychology last year found that these people
who were bullied as children were about 2.5 times more likely as
others to be clinically depressed as young adults.
In the new study, reported in the current issue of the
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers surveyed 246 LGBT youth aged 16 to 20 and followed them over several years to see what happened to them. Fifty-seven percent of the participants were black; about half were female.
Being bullied (over the time period of the study) and a low
level of support from others boosted the risk that the teens would
become suicidal. Bullying also boosted the risk that they would try
to harm themselves. Over the 2.5-year study, slightly more than 15
percent of the people in the survey reported trying to harm
On average, 8 percent of the participants reported hurting
themselves in the prior six months, Mustanski said. Seven percent
of those who didn't report being victimized said they'd harmed
themselves, compared to 11 percent of those who'd reported being
victimized. Overall, a history of being bullied more than doubled
the odds for self-harm, the researchers found.
However, those who had social support -- "support from family
and peers, meaning that the young person would say they have
someone to go to when they have a tough time, someone is looking
out for them" -- were less likely to be suicidal, Mustanski
N. Eugene Walls, an assistant professor of social work at the
University of Denver, said the study confirms other findings about
the effects of anti-gay bullying.
"As more and more research accumulates, those who wish to ignore anti-gay bullying or dismiss it as normal adolescent behavior and teasing are going to have an increasingly difficult argument to make that bullying is not that serious," he said.
What should parents do?
"Research indicates that they are unlikely to be able to change their child's sexual orientation. So even though it may be difficult, sexual orientation is likely to be something about their child that will require acceptance," said Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling, a professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama.
Mustanski said young people themselves can find support through
gay-straight alliances on campuses, youth programs at local gay
community centers and online sites.
He recommended the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's
warning signs of suicide.
Project to reach a 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide
hotline for gay teens and those who are questioning their
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