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Chicago • Suicide attempts by gay teens and even straight kids occur more in politically conservative areas without schools that have programs supporting gay rights, a study involving nearly 32,000 high school students found.
Those factors raised the odds and were a substantial influence on suicide attempts even when known risk contributors like depression and being bullied were considered, said study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.
His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren't bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.
The research focused on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies. Other teen health experts called it a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.
"Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes," said Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The new study is being published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Previous research has found disproportionately high suicide rates in gay teens. One highly publicized case involved a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge last year after classmates recorded and broadcast the 18-year-old having sex with a man.
The study relied on teens' self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.
Zachary Toomay, a high school senior from California said the study "seems not only plausible, but it's true."
The star swimmer, 18, lives in a conservative, mostly Republican county.
Toomay said signs of community intolerance made him feel down and consider suicide.
Funding for the study came from the National Institutes for Health and a center for gay research at the Fenway Institute, an independent Harvard-affiliated health care and research center.
On the Web
O See the Pediatrics report. • pediatrics.org