Teens who live in states with hate crime laws that include LGBTQ+ protections are less likely to attempt suicide than teens in other states, according to a new study. It’s not only LGBTQ+ teens who experience this benefit, but straight and cisgender teens too.
For the study, published on June 23, researchers analyzed data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a school-administered survey that collects information on teen behaviors that lead to death or disability. The research team collated data regarding suicide and suicide attempts from the beginning of the survey in 1991 until 2018. Of the more than 697,000 high school students surveyed over that time frame, researchers found that around 8.6% of them reported attempting suicide at least once in the previous year.
Beginning in 2015, questions regarding sexual orientation were included in the survey. The research team analyzed 83,000 records from 2015 to 2018 and found that LGBTQ+ students were more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide — 25.7% of gay or lesbian students, 27.1% of bisexual students, and 18.5% of questioning students, compared to 6.3% of straight students.
Researchers then examined data from states where LGBTQ+ communities are protected by hate crime legislation and found a notable decrease in suicide attempts among teens. States that protect LGBTQ+ individuals against hate crimes experience roughly 16% fewer teen suicide attempts than states that do not. There was no change in the number of suicide attempts in states whose hate crime laws omit gender and/or sexual minorities as a protected class.
The findings add to the substantive evidence that LGBTQ+ teens are at greater risk of mental health problems than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. Owing in part to the glut of LGBTQ-discriminatory legislation tearing through the country, LGBTQ+ teens and young adults are at higher risk for depression and anxiety than their peers and are more likely to need mental health care, but are also less likely to receive it.
Because of these discrepancies in care and the burgeoning teen suicide crisis, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its mental health screening recommendations. The AAP now recommends all adolescents aged 12 to 18 be screened for major depressive disorder, and children aged 8 and up for anxiety, even if no symptoms of the conditions are displayed. The group also recommends screening all kids aged 12 and over for suicide risk.
“Sexual minority youth are at increased risk for suicide. Structural interventions, such as hate crime laws, that promote the rights and protections of sexual minorities provide opportunities to address these disparities, although research examining the effects of such legislation is limited,” study author Aaron Kivisto, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Indianapolis, said in a statement.
“Our research found that enactment of hate crime laws specifically protecting sexual minorities is associated with a small but reliable 1.2 percentage point reduction in past-year suicide attempts among high school-aged adolescents. Given the prevalence of suicide attempts in this population, small reductions may nonetheless impact large numbers of youth.”