Marriage Equality Associated with Fewer Suicide Attempts by Sexual Minority Teens

While suicide attempts are not as well-studied as suicides, the available data suggest that sexual minority teens attempt suicide at a rate 2-7 times higher than their heterosexual counterparts. While suicide is complex, and should never be attributed to one single cause, it is believed that the social stigma of being a sexual minority -- especially if it is accompanied by peer and/or family rejection -- plays a role in this disparity in suicide attempts.

Between 1999 and 2015, when marriage equality became the law of the land, 32 states adopted laws allowing same-sex couples to wed. An important new study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, finds that gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) teen suicide attempts decreased in states adopting marriage equality legislation. The new research is the first to explore how that rapid social and legal change affected the psychological health of GLB high school students.

To date, most stigma reduction efforts have been focused on the individual or interpersonal levels, and less focused on the level of policy. While all efforts are important, this study illustrates the relationship between policy and mental health, and is an example of how policies may contribute to decreasing or increasing what is known as “structural stigma.”

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