Same-sex marriage laws might decrease teen suicide attempt rates, says study

Story highlights

  • Study notes decrease in teen suicide attempts lined up with legalization of same-sex marriage
  • Same-sex marriage could help reduce LGBT stigma, which could affect mental health

(CNN)A new study has recorded a hopeful correlation between rates of teen suicide attempts and the prevalence of same-sex marriage.

The journal JAMA Pediatrics published a study on Monday that showed the number of suicide attempts among high school students decreased in states where same-sex marriage was legal. The findings covered 32 states that legalized same-sex marriage from 1999 to 2015. The landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide came in July of 2015
While the study makes it clear this is a correlation and not a direct causation, it's the suicide attempt rates among marginalized groups that really make the comparison interesting.
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According to the authors of the study, gay, lesbian and bisexual students had double the dip in suicide attempt numbers than students who identified as straight. The rate fell 7% for the overall student population and 14% for those who identified as LGBT, or what the study calls "sexual minorities."
These numbers are important because, as the study points out, "suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24 years."
According to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization focused on LGBT youth, queer young people around that age are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
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The study's authors say there is ample evidence, both in the study and in previous research, to suggest the legalization of same-sex marriage has a positive effect on the mental health of LGBT individuals, which, by extension, can affect rates of suicide attempts.
"Policies preventing same-sex marriage constitute a form of structural stigma because they label sexual minorities as different and deny them legal, financial, health and other benefits that are associated with marriage," the study says.
"Legalization of same-sex marriage is also often accompanied by media attention and increased visibility of sexual minorities, which is associated with increased social support for the rights of sexual minorities. This increased social support could translate into improved familial and peer acceptance of sexual minorities, which has been shown to be associated with improved mental health."
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Since the relationship here can be inferred but not proven, and since the information could be useful for future public policy, the authors of the study say "there is a need for further research" on the subject. The study also had some significant limitations: It relied on self-reporting and didn't account for race or socioeconomic factors.