by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
It's no secret that kids can be mean to each other. But for some LGBT youth, the bullying has led to depression, self-imposed isolation, and even suicide. A new study shows that LGBT adolescents get bullied two or three times more than their heterosexual counterparts, and a separate study shows mental health professionals that self-identity, rather than actual sexual behavior, is the most crucial risk factor.
Researchers at the Adolescent Medicine branch at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio say they aren't sure why LGBT kids get bullied more than others. They broadly suggest that those who are different from the social norm are often the targets of bullying, which can include various verbal insults and physical assaults.
Whatever the cause, the researchers say the results have implications for parents and schools alike.
"Students, parents, schools and community organizations can work to create environments that are supportive and accepting of all students, regardless of their sexual orientation," said lead study author Dr. Elise Berlan. "Schools, in particular, need to work to increase awareness of bullying."
The research is hardly new; it adds to accumulating results on the topic of bullying, with studies showing kids who bully at schools are more likely to do the same at home. However, the new results suggest older kids are still vulnerable to bullies, even though past studies have shown the prevalence of bullying declines after middle-school years.
According to the study, LGBT students were the least likely to bully others.
The data came from 2001 information collected in an ongoing study of American teens, which included more than 7,500 adolescents aged 14 to 22. The participants were children of female registered nurses. The results are published online in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Of the male teens, about 0.5% identified themselves as Bisexual, 1.4% as Gay, 4.5% as "mostly heterosexual," and 93.6% as heterosexual. For teen girls, 1.9% identified themselves as Bisexual, 0.3% as Lesbian, 9.5% as mostly heterosexual, and 88.3% as heterosexual.
No group was immune to bullying.
Nearly 44% of Gay male participants said they had been bullied in the previous year, compared with 26% of heterosexuals who reported the same. For girls, 40% of Lesbians indicated they had been bullied in the past year, while just over 15% of heterosexuals reported the same.
"The importance of that is we know that it's not just that they're bullied and that's a normative experience for young people," said Berlan. "We know kids who are bullied have health consequences of those bullying experiences. Kids who are bullied are more likely to have physical and mental health problems."
LGBT YOUTH at
HIGHER SUICIDE RISK
Mental health professionals have known for a long time that LGBT teens face significantly elevated risks of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. However, a group of McGill University researchers in Montreal has come to some new conclusions, published in February in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
The researchers administered an anonymous questionnaire to 1,900 students in 14 Montreal-area high schools. The study found that teens who self-identified as LGBT, or who were unsure of their sexual identity, were at higher risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. However, teens who had same-sex attractions or sexual experiences but thought of themselves as heterosexual were at no greater risk than the population at large.
Surprisingly, the study found that the majority of teens with same-sex attraction or experience considered themselves to be heterosexual.
"This is the first study that has separated sexual identity from sexual attractions and behaviors in looking at risk for poor mental health outcomes," said corresponding author Dr. Brett Thombs, of the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital.
"It's important to realize that a large proportion of people who have sex with or are attracted to people of the same sex do not identify themselves as LGBT. They consider themselves as heterosexual," said co-author Dr. Richard Montoro of the McGill University Health Center.
"The main message is that it's the interface between individuals and society that causes students who identify as LGBT the most distress. Sexual orientation has three different components. The first is identity, which is dependent on the society in which one lives; the second is attraction or fantasy; and the third is behavior. Previous studies have not addressed which of those components may explain why LGBT youth are at risk," said Yue Zhao, a McGill University graduate student working with Thombs.
Thombs says that the study's findings "clearly suggest that further study of the link between anti-Gay sentiment and suicide & need to be undertaken."
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