Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Number of non-heterosexual teens grows, but suicide attempts remain high


Story at a glance

  • The study looked at youth surveys in six states from 2009-2017.
  • The rate of teens who did not identify as strictly heterosexual increased from 7.3 percent in 2009, to 14.3 percent in 2017.
  • The attempted suicide rate for non-heterosexual teens in 2017 was 20.1 percent, compared with about 6 percent for heterosexual highs schoolers.

The number of high school students who considered themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or unsure of their sexual identity doubled from 2009 to 2017, but large disparities remain between the rate of attempted suicide among those teens and the rate of attempted suicide for their straight peers, according to a study. 

A study from Boston University School of Public Health published in the journal Pediatrics Monday evaluated high school students in six states who identified as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure in youth surveys. 

The study found those who did not identify as strictly heterosexual rose from 7.3 percent to 14.3 percent between 2009 and 2017. Researchers also found the share of adolescents who reported any same-sex sexual contact rose from 7.7 percent in 2009 to 13.1 percent in 2017.

But as data revealed that teens may feel more comfortable about identifying as a sexual minority than they did in the past, researchers found the attempted suicide rate for non-heterosexual teens in 2017 was nearly four times as high as that of heterosexual students.

“Large disparities in suicide attempts persisted even as the percent of students identifying as LGBQ increased,” Dr. Julia Raifman, the study’s lead author, said in a statement

In both 2009 and 2017, about 6 percent of heterosexual high schoolers reported attempting suicide in the previous 12 months, while the attempted suicide rate for non-heterosexual teens decreased from 26.7 percent in 2009 to 20.1 percent in 2017. 

“It’s critical that health and educational institutions have policies and programs in place to protect and improve [lesbian, gay, bisexual, or question] LGBQ health, such as medical school curricula and high school health curricula that are inclusive of sexual minority health,” Raifman said. 

Raifman noted that a 2017 study found states’ legalization of same-sex marriage came with a 7 percent decrease in all high school student suicide attempts. 

The study drew on data from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Rhode Island, and researchers note the results are not representative of the entire country.