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What influences adolescent suicide?

Is it possible that public legislative policy can have a direct effect on the numbers of adolescents attempting to take their own lives? Well yes, according to a report that looked specifically at the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM). It has long been known that young people identifying as a sexual minority are at increased risk of attempted suicide. The attitudes of peers and the general public might be an influential factor. The United States presents a unique natural experiment to study this, as under the federal system, each state is free to introduce its own legislation. In the case of SSM, this has been legalised very gradually over a number of years.

The Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance System (YRBSS), is Union-wide and gathers high-school students’ self-reported responses about suicide attempts. Researchers were able to link data from this with 32 states’ introduction of SSM between 1999 and 2015 (Raifman J et al. JAMA Peds 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.4529). Before introduction of SSM, they found attempted suicide rates in the previous 12 months in 8.6% of all students, and in 28.5% of those identifying as sexual minorities. After an analysis that allowed for many potentially confounding variables, …

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