School Climate and Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

July 24, 2015

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A supportive school environment can virtually eliminate the disparity in the rate of suicidal thoughts between lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth and their heterosexual peers, according to the authors of a study that correlated Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System data with school climate measures.

Among all students surveyed, LGB youth were significantly more likely than heterosexual adolescents to report having suicidal thoughts or making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt in the past year. However, LGB students living in cities and states with school climates that are supportive of LGBTQ youth were significantly less likely to report suicidal thoughts than were their LGB peers in non-supportive environments. There was no similar effect among heterosexual youth. The percentages of LGB youth living in states and cities with supportive school climates who made a suicide plan and who attempted suicide in the past year also decreased, although these reductions did not reach statistical significance.

A supportive climate includes:

·         A Gay-Straight Alliance and safe spaces for LGBTQ youth on campus;

·         Curricula on health matters relevant to LGBTQ youth;

·         A policy prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

·         Encouragement for staff to be trained about school environments that support LGBTQ youth; and

·         Assistance for students to access offsite health and mental health services targeted to LGBTQ youth.

The authors believe their findings support the view that “comprehensive suicide prevention and interventions for sexual minority adolescents should address not only individual-level and family-level factors but also broader social-contextual influences, including school climate.”

This summary is from: Hatzenbuehler, M.L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I.H. (2014). Protective school climates and reduced risk for suicide ideation in sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health 104(2): 279-286.