LGBT Suicide Rates Drop with the Legalization of Same Sex Marriage

San Diego Suicide Prevention

Being a teenager is hard, but being a teenager who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer in some other form or fashion is a whole over level of difficult. Among teenagers, LGBT suicide rates are more than three times higher than among their straight peers. But the good news is we’ve seen a significant drop in those suicide rates in the last four to five years.

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, LGBT suicide rates have dropped by more than half, and overall teenage suicide rates have dropped several percentage points. Read on to learn more about this connection and how we can continue to work to keep our teens safe.

Suicide Rates Among the LGBTQ Community

Teenagers are some of the people at most risk of committing suicide, and it’s not hard to see why. Your teenage years are a tumultuous time when you’re coping with hormonal changes, identity crises, and more. According to a study that ran from 1999 to 2015, an average of 8.6 percent of teenagers attempts suicide every year.

But among LGBTQ youth, that number skyrockets. That same study reported that 28.5 percent of teenagers who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual attempted suicide each year. But that study took place before the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in June 2015.

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Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

Prior to the landmark 2015 ruling, thirty-five states had already legalized gay marriage. And, in fact, the study we mentioned looked at 32 of those 35 states and compared them to the states where same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized until the national ruling. The states that legalized same-sex marriage before the national ruling saw drops in suicide rates beginning when they made the change.

The case that made the difference was Obergefell v. Hodges, which was decided on June 26, 2015. Prior to that ruling, according to a Gallup poll, only 38 percent of same-sex couples were married. As of 2017, that number had risen to 61 percent.

Drop in Suicide Rates

Along with a rise in the number of married same-sex couples, the June 2015 ruling brought changes in the LGBTQ suicide rates. According to some research, the suicide rates of all teenagers dropped about 7 percent following that ruling. And among LGBTQ teens, suicide rates dropped by about 14 percent – a decline of nearly half.

This drop is significant especially given that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. And it is incontrovertibly tied to the legalization of same-sex marriage; for one thing, the drop in suicide rates continued for two years after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. For another, the states that did not legalize same-sex marriage before the national ruling saw no drop in their suicide rates before 2015.

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Reasons Behind this Drop

There are a number of reasons that the legalization of same-sex marriage has led to a drop in LGBTQ teen suicide rates. For one thing, it helps decrease the stigma of identifying as something other than straight. The more teenagers see married same-sex couples, the less likely they are to bully a classmate for being interested in someone of the same sex.

But for those teens who do still experience bullying, legal same-sex marriage offers them hope. The reason why people commit suicide is that they can’t see any hope for their future being better than their present. If a teenager is being bullied in high school, at least they can hope that someday, they might be able to have a marriage and a better life.

How Many Teens Identify As LGBTQ

According to the Associated Press, as of 2017, 26,252 students identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The study didn’t address transgender students, those who identify as asexual or genderqueer, or those who were questioning their sexuality. But based on that 26,252, let’s take a look at just how big an impact same-sex marriage had on our teenagers.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, more than 7,481 students who identified as LGBTQ attempted suicide every year. After the ruling, that number dropped to 3,675 students a year, meaning more than 3,800 more LGBTQ students lived every year. And with the overall drop in suicide rates among teenagers after the ruling, researchers estimate that legal same-sex marriage may save more than 134,000 lives every single year.

Steps We Can Still Take

While the legalization of same-sex marriage was a crucial step, we still have more than 3,500 LGBTQ teens attempting suicide each year. One great way to help drop those numbers even further is to let any teenagers in your life know they have a safe space with you. Encourage them to support the LGBTQ people in their lives, too; just having someone in their court can make a literal life and death difference.

We also need to take steps to support trans students, especially trans women of color. Trans students should be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their identified gender, and teachers should use their correct gender pronouns in class. These small steps can go a long way towards validating these students’ identities and giving them hope.

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How to Talk About Suicide

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the most important step is to reach out and get help. If you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, call the Trevor Project hotline at 1-866-488-7386. They provide suicide crisis counseling for LGBTQ people in a safe, judgment-free way.

If you are worried someone you know may be thinking of killing themselves, talk to them and let a trusted adult in their lives know you’re worried. Tell the person you’re worried, ask how they’re feeling, and let them know they aren’t alone and that they have your support. And if you believe they are in imminent danger, encourage them to call the Trevor Project hotline, or call 911 yourself.

Learn More About LGBT Suicide Rates

LGBT suicide rates have dropped exponentially since the legalization of same-sex marriage. Teens now feel less outcast and have hope for a better adulthood now that same-sex marriage is legal. And remember, if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out and get help.

If you’re struggling with suicidality or issues dealing with your sexuality, reach out to us at Solar Mental Health. We have in-residence and intensive outpatient treatment programs to help you get the expert care to get back to full health. Contact us today and discover how we can help.

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