Implementing laws permitting same-sex marriage has been found to significantly reduce suicide attempts among US teens, mainly gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, teen suicide attempts declined by as much as 14% in states that made same-sex marriage legal. Gay marriage was made legal across the United States by the Supreme Court in 2015.
Legalizing led to 134,446 fewer suicide attempts every year
Researchers led by Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins University studied suicide attempts by gay, lesbian, and bisexual kids in 47 states in the United States. Between 1999 and 2015, they analyzed data on about 763,000 high school students. About 231,000 of them identified themselves as a sexual minority. Researchers did not collect data on transgender status.
The survey involved questions about substance abuse, suicide attempts, smoking, and alcohol. In 32 states that legalized same-sex marriage between 1999 and 2015, the overall suicide attempts fell by 7%. More interestingly, it declined by 14% among same-sex kids after the states passed the law. States that failed to enact same-sex marriage laws saw no change in such attempts.
Julia Raifman said a 14% reduction is equivalent to 134,446 fewer teens committing suicide every year. Notably, suicide is the second most common cause of death among the US teens, according to CDC. In 2015, almost 29% sexual minority teens reported attempting suicide within the prior 12 months. Though the latest study does not prove there is a direct connection between legalizing same-sex marriage and the decline in suicide attempts, it indicates that passing the laws can improve their mental health.
LGBTQ community has its own health concerns
Julia Raifman said in a statement that gay-friendly policies make gay teens feel “more hopeful for the future.” Denying gay couples the right to marriage signals that they don’t deserve the same rights as others simply because of their sexual orientation. Friendly policies create more tolerance and less hostility towards sexual minority kids. The new study highlights how laws limiting LGBTQ rights might affect physical as well as psychological health.
Raifman wrote in JAMA Pediatrics that the LGBTQ community has their own set of health concerns. It is “particularly true” for teens. Some of the most common health concerns among them are substance abuse, depression, and sexually-transmitted diseases. Scientists found that gay teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Legalizing same-sex marriage brings media attention and increased visibility to sexual minorities. It leads to greater acceptance and increased social support, which has been associated with improvement in mental health. Also, resources that are spent on pushing for same-sex marriage could be directed to improving the mental health of the community, said researchers.