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UA studies suicide risks of young LGBTs

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UA studies suicide risks of young LGBTs

Local, NYU researchers team for $2.8M study

  • Marius Dollinger/Flickr

A nationwide study conducted in part by University of Arizona researchers to identify causes for the high risk for suicide by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people has begun.

UA and New York University researchers received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health over the summer for the study.

More than 1,000 LGBTs aged 15 to 21 from San Francisco, Tucson and New York are expected to participate. 

"Recruiting for the study starts now, and we will follow up every nine months," said Stephen Russell, director of UA's Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth & Families.

The Southwest has not been represented well in these large studies, Russell said in an interview Monday.

"Our goal is to recruit 150 in Tucson," Russell said.

The study will compare those with suicidal behavior with those who don't, Russell said in a press release. 

Depending on questioning. LGBT suicide risk can be two to three times greater than their heterosexual peers, Russell said.

A study conducted in the 1990s showed 7 percent of heterosexual young people reported suicidal thoughts. For LGBT, it was 15 percent, Russell said.

Identity-based discrimination and stigmas attached to sexual orientation are some of the reasons for this, he said.

The study will focus on a series of psychological factors associated with suicide, including feeling like one doesn't belong and the perception of being a burden, according to the press release.

"If you feel like you don't belong to school, that undermines your sense to your community," Russell said.

More young people are coming out of the closet today, but suicide risk has probably not changed much over the years, Russell said.

Other research has pointed to potential causes.

Compared with prior generations, today's LGBTs are increasingly aware of their identities and are more likely to disclose them earlier in life. As a result, they are more likely to be exposed to suicidal risk factors—such as bullying, harassment, marginalization and victimization by family members and peers, NYU professor Arnold Grossman said in the press release.

Although there is more visibility, there is also a higher risk to be identified and to be bullied, Russell said.

"I really hope that through this study we can identify what makes a difference in schools and families to help LGBT youth," Russell said.

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