Gay suicide rates exaggerated, study says.
November 26, 2001 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Gay suicide rates exaggerated, study says. Cornell psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams says gay teens are only slightly more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide.
posted by adrober (12 comments total)
Uhh...there's nothing wrong with posting a comment to your own link just so the count isn't 0, is there?
posted by adrober at 5:46 PM on November 26, 2001

you know I was watching this wondering why no one has commented. maybe too touchy. anyway thanks for posting. I always thought that was an exageration anyways....
posted by thekorruptor at 7:30 PM on November 26, 2001

I found it an interesting link, with good information, but it's just facts- there's nothing to talk about, really. It's never been particularly controversial that teenagers of any flavor are prone to suicidal thoughts, and it's nice to know where the inflated numbers came from (counting thoughts, as well as actions.) If there were a contrasting study comparing the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts by gay youths to those of straight youths, there might be a bit more discuss. As it stands, I think it's a great link- don't be dismayed by lack of discussion. It provided good information, and nobody popped up to tell you it sucked, so you're all good, adrober.
posted by headspace at 7:39 PM on November 26, 2001

I'm not exactly sure what to think of this news.

One one hand, I'm thinking it's a good thing, because it means that gay teenagers are just as level-headed as straight teenagers. On the other hand, it worries me that a ultra-conservative group might have put the report out to debunk the criticism that our current country's state leads to anxiety and suicidal tendencies in the teenagers.

Speaking from my own point of view (from when I was a teenager), as well as other gay teenagers I've known, I can tell you that gay teenage guys tend to be more emotional than their straight counterparts. We tend to wear our hearts, and our vulnerabilities on our sleeves. So I can see more where the suicide rates would actually be higher than this new study reports.
posted by benjh at 8:47 PM on November 26, 2001

One wonders if activists will digest this information or continue to say the opposite, unchallenged.
posted by owillis at 9:11 PM on November 26, 2001

Well, owillis, given the number of studies out there that have found higher rates of suicide attempts among gay youth, I think I'd want some replication of this study before I decide that suicide attempt rates are the same for gay and straight youth.

It's not just one of those numbers that's been bandied about with no real research - there are quite a few real studies which have put the suicide attempt rate of gay teens anywhere from a couple of percentage points higher to double or triple the rate of their straight counterparts. Do enough studies, and you're bound to get a sample with an unusually low number. Keep in mind that there have also been studies that have shown that the rate is seven times higher - these are quite likely the extreme ends of sampling variation (differences in research design also have major effects on findings).

That being said, I'm not willing to dismiss it as a fluke, either. Savin-Williams is one of the premiere names in research on gay youth, and he's been fairly rigorous in his methods. And he is not a right-winger - quite the contrary, he's been a part of dozens of efforts to research gay youth and find ways to help them.

If Savin-Williams can be said to have an agenda it is to present gay youth as "normal." He has moved in recent years away from his original work establishing all of the negative factors in the lives of gay teens towards showing that they also have real strengths. He is wary of a view of gay and lesbian youth as somehow "damaged."

So ... I think the important thing is to have some scientific patience. The preponderance of the evidence at the moment still points to a higher suicide attempt rate among gay teens, but the magnitude of the difference is in doubt. Further studies may pin down how much higher the suicide attempt rate is among gay teens - or find that the difference in the attempt rates doesn't really exist.
posted by Chanther at 9:56 PM on November 26, 2001

It will also be interesting to see how the suicide rates, and the differences between the rates for gay and straight teens, have varied over the years. It's possible that both sets of studies are reasonably accurate, and that suicide rates among gay and lesbian teens are declining very quickly as societal acceptance increases and reasons for suicidal despair disappear.

I would be very surprised, for example, if suicide rates found in the 1980's, when there were few or no positive images of gay adults available to gay youth, still hold today, when most Americans are at least dimly aware of positive images of gay and lesbian adults.

(It's also worth noting that this article seems to dismiss high rates of "thinking about suicide" as meaningless. "Thinking about suicide", otherwise known as "suicidal ideation," is a symptom of severe depression if it persists over time. So lack of follow-through, while extremely good news, doesn't mean the study subjects are out of the woods yet.)
posted by 23lemurs at 2:33 AM on November 27, 2001

Gay teens less suicidal than thought, report says: USA Today's full story. Not included in The Advocate's excerpt: "Even if fewer gay teens than previously thought are trying to kill themselves, "nobody disputes the fact being gay or lesbian in high school is not a very pleasant experience," says David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay advocacy group in the USA. "The core problem is prejudice and harassment that goes unchecked in school settings," Smith says. "School officials take no action. We need to address that problem head-on."

While I'm glad about the study's findings, many lesbian and gay youth are unlikely to "out" themselves to a researcher, no matter how sympathetic.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:42 AM on November 27, 2001

Props to all things Mefi! A lonely thread was transformed into a smart discussion. Thanks everyone, and thanks adrober for posting.
posted by thekorruptor at 8:51 AM on November 27, 2001

Woo hoo! I guess self-pity works nowadays :)
posted by adrober at 12:41 PM on November 27, 2001

Isn't all of that "gays are more sensitive" stuff just more stereotypical nonsense? Sure, we have to put up with more BS because of who we are and how society sees us, but who's to say that doesn't make us better equipped to deal with things?
posted by Poagao at 6:43 PM on November 27, 2001

Isn't all of that "gays are more sensitive" stuff just more stereotypical nonsense?

I haven't seen this suggested in connection with the suicide issue.

Sure, we have to put up with more BS because of who we are and how society sees us, but who's to say that doesn't make us better equipped to deal with things?

Conversely, if it kills you, it can't make you stronger.
posted by skyline at 7:24 PM on November 27, 2001

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