In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriages. Similar laws were enacted in other states before same-sex marriages became legal throughout the U.S. in 2015. A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on February 20, 2017, has found a direct link between suicide attempts by adolescents and state legalization of same-sex marriage.
The researchers found that in states which enacted marriage equality laws, suicide attempts by high school students declined by 7 percent. Among lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning (LGBQ) youth, the decline was a significant 14 percent. However, there was no change in cases of attempted suicide in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage. Taking into account the diverse social settings of every state, it was found that the effects of marriage equality laws lasted two years after they were enacted.
The study relied on data of over 760,000 students collected between 1999 and 2015 for the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As per Julia Raifman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author of the study, the data was given proportionate weightage so that it was representative of high school students from every state.
The study’s authors observed that marriage equality laws reflect broader social acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) people, a likely reason for the decline in suicide attempts. But the study does not explain the potential causes for a decline in attempted suicide rates. However, it proves that higher levels of tolerance and a convivial social setting brought about by liberal laws lead to lower suicide attempts.
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S among 10-to-24-year olds. The risk of suicide attempts is higher in youngsters who belong to the LGBQ community. A study conducted between 2014-2015 shows that a little over 29 percent of LGB high school students attempted suicide and 43 percent seriously considered attempting suicide during 12 months prior to the survey, compared with approximately 6 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of heterosexual students. Although the reasons for LGBQ youth attempting suicide are not fully known, previous research suggests that anti-gay sentiments are a likely cause.
Anti-LGBTQ laws are known to perpetuate stigma and leave a seriously negative impact on adolescents’ mental health. Raifman reasons that gay-friendly laws reduce perceived stigma among adolescents, leading to lower suicide attempts. Marriage equality laws may also lead to greater social support from parents, teachers and peers of adolescents with same-sex or questioning identities. Community outreach programs relating to same-sex marriage policies may also contribute to changing the mindsets of LGBQ adolescents. Raifman adds that perhaps marriage equality laws encourage LGBQ adolescents to believe that they are equal, which improves their mental health.
According to Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the risk of suicide due to discrimination is high for all minority groups, including LGB youth. According to him, the study was conducted at a time when suicide rates were rising in the U.S. This puts the focus on the fact that high-risk populations such as LGB youth need to be given more attention. Denial of parity to the gay population increases the stigma and leads to social isolation, which undermines their mental health issues.
A more tolerant and welcoming society can go a long way in reducing associated mental health risks of minorities, especially LGBT people. However, professional help should be solicited if the mental health issues are interfering with normal life functions. If you or a loved one is suffering from mental health disorders, the Arizona Mental Health Helpline can help in recovery and rehabilitation. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-606-7791 or chat online with experts to avail the facilities of one of the best mental health treatment centers in Arizona.