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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Social Environment and Suicide

Suicide awareness and prevention is a significant concern among psychologists.  Having a strong knowledge base about suicide risk factors will help psychologists function at their highest levels.  In a previous blog post, a military study highlighted unit cohesion as a factor in decreasing suicidal ideation. Here is an abstract from the journal Pediatrics that indicates how the social environment plays a role in teenage suicide rates.

The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the social environment surrounding lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth may contribute to their higher rates of suicide attempts, controlling for individual-level risk factors.
METHODS: A total of 31 852 11th grade students (1413 [4.4%] lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals) in Oregon completed the Oregon Healthy Teens survey in 2006–2008. We created a composite index of the social environment in 34 counties, including (1) the proportion of same-sex couples, (2) the proportion of registered Democrats, (3) the presence of gay-straight alliances in schools, and (4) school policies (nondiscrimination and antibullying) that specifically protected lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.
RESULTS: Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96–0.99]).
CONCLUSIONS: This study documents an association between an objective measure of the social environment and suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The social environment appears to confer risk for suicide attempts over and above individual-level risk factors. These results have important implications for the development of policies and interventions to reduce sexual orientation–related disparities in suicide attempts.

Hopefully, this research will shed light on the importance of environmental influences and risk factors relating to suicide.  Prevention programs, suicide awareness among professionals, and competent suicide assessments are keys to decreasing the silent epidemic of teen suicide, especially with GLBT youth.

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