Policies legalizing same sex marriage are correlated with fewer youth suicide attempts, especially among teenagers who are sexual minorities, according to a new study.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data from both states that had and hadn’t legalized same sex marriage prior to 2015, when the Supreme Court issued a decision legalizing it across the country. “After same-sex marriage laws were implemented, the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts in the past year decreased by 0.6 percentage points, equivalent to a 7% decline,” wrote the authors. States that had not legalized same sex marriage did not see these declines.
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The analysis is based on government surveys of more than 700,000 public high school students. Since the suicide attempt and sexual orientation data is self reported, the researchers warned that there may be some shortcomings to the analysis.
But the results were striking. Not only did suicide attempts fall 7% among all students in the 32 states that had already legalized same sex marriage – it fell 14% among gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual minority teens.
Teen suicide is already a major public health scourge and one of the leading causes of death among young people (other than automobile accidents). But it’s a bona fide crisis among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, 40% of whom have seriously contemplated suicide, according to the CDC.
While the new study doesn’t point to any definitive cause-and-effect between same sex marriage and reduced suicide attempts, it does suggest that a generally more accepting policy environment could help reduce bullying and stigma.
“As countries around the world consider enabling or restricting same-sex marriage, we provide evidence that implementing same-sex marriage policies was associated with improved population health,” wrote the study authors. “Policymakers should consider the mental health consequences of same-sex marriage policies.”