Gay-straight alliances in schools cut suicide risk for all students, researchers say
'Students Taking A Self Portrait With Smart Phone' [Shutterstock]

Schools that set up programs to fight homophobia help reduce the suicide risk for all students, a recent study showed.

Canadian researchers said all students at schools that set up gay-straight alliances and enacted anti-homophobia policies showed lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, particularly when both were enacted or after they had been in place for three years or more.

“We know that LGBTQ students are at higher risk for suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination,” says Elizabeth Saewyc, a University of British Columbia nursing professor and lead author of the study. “But heterosexual students can also be the target of homophobic bullying. When policies and supportive programs like GSAs are in place long enough to change the environment of the school, it’s better for students’ mental health, no matter what their orientation.”

The study examined data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey and was published in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies.

One-fifth of the nearly 22,000 students examined in the survey attended schools with anti-homophobic bullying policies and one-third attended schools with GSAs. About 60 percent of the students included in the survey attended schools that had neither.

Students who attended schools that implemented GSAs were half as likely to suffer homophobic discrimination or have suicidal thoughts as students who attended schools without those organizations.

Heterosexual boys and girls were significantly less likely to be targeted for discrimination over perceived sexual orientation at those schools, and heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide if their school had a GSA.

Anti-homophobia policies reduced the odds of suicidal thoughts for gay and bisexual boys by more than 70 percent, and suicide attempts by lesbian or bisexual girls dropped by two-thirds.

Heterosexual boys at those schools were 27 percent less likely to have suicidal thoughts that straight boys at schools without anti-homophobia policies in place for at least three years.

The researchers previously found that Canadian high schools with GSAs in place for three years or more also reduced problem alcohol use for all students.

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