Nearly One-Third of Young Gay Men May Attempt Suicide, Study Suggests

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By Ellen Flax

Almost one in three young gay men may try to commit suicide, suggests a new study described as the most comprehensive to date about suicide attempts by homosexual and bisexual teenage and college-age males.

The study, which appeared in the June issue of Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that 41 of 137 young men studied--or 30 percent--had attempted suicide. Almost half of the attempters reported having tried to kill themselves on more than one occasion.

The study subjects were between the ages of 14 and 21, and most were living in Minnesota or Washington State. They were recruited through advertisements in gay publications and bars, support groups for gay youths, a youth drop-in center, and by peers. Over 80 percent of the study participants were white.

The study was completed by three researchers, Robert W. Deisher and James A. Farrow of the University of Washington and Gary Remafedi of the University of Minnesota. Its find4ing that almost one in three young gay males may attempt suicide corroborates the conclusions of two earlier studies completed separately by Dr. Deisher and Dr. Remafedi.

Those who work with gay teenagers have long maintained that young male and female homosexuals face difficulties that may heighten their risk for suicide and other self-destructive behaviors. Experts in the field have urged schools to provide special services for gay students. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1990.)

A 1989 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that gay teenagers were two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual adolescents, and that gay teens accounted for as much as 30 percent of the annual suicide toll for all teenagers.

"Schools need to include information about homosexuality in their curriculum and protect gay youths from abuse by peers to ensure they receive an equal education," the hhs report said.

Earlier Self-Identification

According to the study, one-third of the suicide attempts by the young men studied were related to personal or interpersonal turmoil regarding homosexuality. Almost one-third of the attempters said they first tried to kill themselves in the same year that they identified themselves as gay or bisexual.

On the whole, the study found, suicide attempters identified themselves as gay at an earlier age than non-attempters, at 13.74 years of age versus 15.44 years of age. With each year's delay in self-indentification, the odds of a suicide attempt declined by more than 80 percent, the authors report.

"The apparent connections between sexual milestones and attempts," they write, "may be a clue to the appropriate timing of suicide-prevention efforts."

Gay youths who adopted "feminine" characteristics or who used illegal drugs were three times more likely to attempt suicide than others in the group, the study found. Attempters were also more likely to report that they had been forced, pressured, or tricked into having sex and that they had accepted money for sex.

Vol. 10, Issue 38

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