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27 Nov 2001

gay youth suicide exaggerated, says US study

A new US study conducted by a Cornell University psychologist has suggested that gay and lesbian youths are only slightly more likely than heterosexual kids to attempt suicide.

A new study in the US has indicated that gay and lesbian youths are only slightly more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide, contrary to past studies that suggest gay youths have about triple the rate of trying suicide, according to USA Today.

In the controversial report due next month, Cornell University psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams says that gay teens are only slightly more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide and that previous researchers found higher rates because they focused only on the most at-risk teens at support groups or shelters, where the most troubled gather, and because they failed to differentiate between thoughts and actions.

Savin-Williams's conducted two studies focusing on 349 students ages 17 to 25. The findings are scheduled to appear in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

He asked the youths about which method they had used when they attempted suicide. He also broke down data by comparing subjects who had attended support groups with those who had not. Among his findings:

- Of the reported suicide attempts among gay youth, more than half turned out to be "thinking about it" rather than actually attempting to commit suicide.

- One study of 83 women showed a true suicide attempt rate of 13% for those who hadn't attended a support group. (Between 7% and 13% of all teens have tried to kill themselves.) For the small minority from support groups, 45% had tried suicide.

- In a study of 266 college men and women, Savin-Williams found that the gay subjects were not more likely to attempt suicide but were more likely to report attempts.

"They're trying to communicate that they do have difficult lives," Savin-Williams says. "But most gay kids are healthy and resilient." Previous studies, he says, "pathologize gay youth, and that's not fair to them."

Another recent US school-based survey of 12,000 teens found about 15% of gay and lesbian youngsters had tried suicide, compared with 7% of straight teens. Gay and lesbian teens also reported significantly more alcohol abuse and depression than did straight classmates.

United States

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