Teen suicide is a real problem. Just when an individual should be feeling excited about the new freedoms, challenges and responsibilities they’ll soon have as an adult, they decide to take their own life.
The statistics are high.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), reports that in 2013, 17% of high school students in the U.S seriously considered attempting suicide (22% of females and 11% of males).
Suicide is also the second leading cause of death in the U.S for those aged 15 to 24 years. Initiatives like the Trevor Project, that provides a national hotline for young LGBT people across the U.S have a real need.
So, what’s the driving factor? What’s causing this large group of youth to want to give up on living?
Some of the obvious is at play. A perceived lack of parental interest- feeling that your parents don’t care about you- is one of the major causes. Depression, bullying, eating disorders and drug use also all come into play.
But what about laws?
Same-Sex Marriage Laws
Somewhat surprisingly, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that when same-sex marriage is legalized in a state, the rates of teen suicide drop.
The decrease researchers found is significant. A study done by scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University and published in JAMA Pediatrics provides the proof.
It revealed that when same-sex marriage policies are in place, there is a 7% reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting suicide attempts.
Sure, most students don’t have any immediate plans to go out and get married, but it matters. It seems that it’s about something more than what’s on paper.
Policies and Mental Health
Julia Raifman, an author on the study and an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, stated in a news release:
“…same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights — even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them — that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”
The research was done as part of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, and notably, it was completed before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the U. S in 2015.
It was part of the work the CDC does each year in collecting information on teens’ diet, sexual behaviors and drug and alcohol use, in an effort to identify patterns in the behavior of youth.
The researchers say that they investigated an association between youth suicide rates and same-sex marriage laws. Of note though, they did not necessarily find that having the laws in place was an immediate cause for a reduction in teen suicides.
Nonetheless, the findings are important. As Raifman pointed out in a news release quoted by the Washington Post, policy makers need to be aware of the effects of what they do.
They should realize that what they decide on really does affect people’s mental health.
Raifman added to this the fact that anything that reduces suicide rates is positive.
“We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views,” she stated.