Areas that have strong support systems for non-heterosexual teens show lower suicide rates among all demographics. Image: Flickr / nerdcoregirl / CC-BY-SA

A study released by Columbia University researchers is raising questions of life and death for teens. The study compared suicide rates against the general political and social environment of teens’ hometowns. The results of this study will likely become a social, political and legislative flashpoint.

Columbia study on teen suicide

In order to study the effects of societal pressures on suicide, Columbia University combed the records of 34 Oregon counties. Oregon is the only state that maintains detailed records on teen suicides. The study measured five distinct factors:

These numbers were used to create a “supportiveness statistic” for each county. These numbers were then compared to the number of suicides and suicide attempts.

Suicide tied to many factors

Though political and social leanings of a particular area are not the only factor in teen suicides, this Columbia study reveals that the “supportiveness” of an area has an effect. Though the study was targeted at studying lesbian, gay and bisexual teens, the results showed that more supportive areas have lower rates of suicide for lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual individuals. LGB youth were 20 percent less likely to commit suicide in supportive areas, while heterosexual youth were 9 percent less likely. The statistics also indicated that areas with more registered Democrats, seen as “more liberal” areas, tended to show these numbers as well.

Putting suicide numbers to use

The study from Columbia is already being both lauded and lambasted. “It really challenges the myth that there is something inherent about being gay that puts you at risk for suicide,” says study author Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University. “Regardless of your views, our data suggests that the inclusion of gay-straight alliances and anti-discrimination programs can have really important mental health outcomes for our youths.” In some areas, however, opponents of anti-bullying and acceptance programs are saying these programs are a way to “push the homosexual agenda.” Either way, it is certain that this study encourages more research and more pro-active approaches to teen mental health.


American Academy of Pediatrics:

CBS News:

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