Thursday, June 12, 2008

Study Examines Factors in LGBT Suicides

TUCSON (Observer Update) - A University of Arizona professor is embarking on a major study to determine the root causes of the high rate of suicide among LGBT youth, reported It is widely known that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth face discrimination, but less is known about the factors that make them twice as likely to attempt suicide.

University of Arizona professor Stephen T. Russell's study will use information gathered about students from their teenage years through young adulthood.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has provided Russell with a two-year "distinguished investigator" grant totaling nearly $100,000 to conduct the study.

Russell, a John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences professor, is one of the few researchers who has studied the experience of LGBT youth in school. He published the first national results showing LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.

In his proposal for the grant, Russell wrote that his study will attempt to explain “the sexual orientation disparity in suicide ideation and suicide attempts among U.S. adolescents through the examination of risk and protective factors that characterize the important contexts of adolescents’ lives: individual emotional and behavioral health and risk, family and peer relations and the school environment.”

Russell, whose project is titled “Explaining the Sexual Orientation Disparity in Adolescent Suicide Risk,” will use a large national survey that contains information from more than 20,000 students who were surveyed in seventh through 12th grades and followed over six years, the university said in a statement.

The data will be pulled from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the only study in the United States that includes sexual orientation, suicidal tendencies and information about what shapes adolescent development, said Russell, an expert on adolescent ethnic and sexual identities and sexual health.

“The potential is not only to study the adolescent years, but also the transition into the young adult years,” said Russell, who holds the Fitch Nesbitt Endowed Chair in Family and Consumer Sciences, in a statement.

“The study will allow me to follow kids into the young adult years and do a better job of understanding factors – school, family life, faith, friends and peers – that contribute to or ameliorate the risk for suicide and other mental health problems,” he added.

The National Adolescent Health Information Center reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among those age 10 to 24, yet little information is available that is specific to LGBT youth.

Russell said he wants to be able to identify risk factors for suicide and will also try to determine what roles prejudice, discrimination, victimization, depression and anxiety play in suicidal behavior. His results also will inform suicide prevention and intervention programs and efforts designed specifically for LGBT youth.

“For example, some people say we need to create support systems so kids who might be Gay will have access to other people who are like them, but we’ve never really tested that,” said Russell. “We don’t really know whether that works. So, one hope is that my study will be able to at least determine if that might be a promising area of study for future research," he said.

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