A Feinberg School of Medicine professor has tapped into the causal factors behind suicidal thoughts in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Dr. Brian Mustanski, professor of medical social sciences at Feinberg, led the two-and-a-half-year study, the first-ever longitudinal study (a correlational study involving repeated observation over an extended period of time) examining factors that contribute to suicide in LGBT youth.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, followed 246 Chicago-area sexual minority youths, who are 16 to 20 years old at the start of the study, who were interviewed five times at six-month intervals. In a news release published Tuesday, Mustanski said the study, also led by Brown University’s Dr. Richard Liu, found that love and support were the most important factors deterring LGBT youth from suicide, and victimization was found to be the biggest factor putting youth at risk.
In the wake of publicized incidents of LGBT youth victimization, such as Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly watched Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man via webcam and posted about it online, Mustanski said the study demonstrated the importance of implementing anti-bullying programs in schools.
“Our research shows how critical it is for these young people to have social support and for schools to have programs to reduce bullying,” he said in the news release. “We believe this will help save young increased.”
Rainbow Alliance co-President Jeff Geiger said he was not surprised by the results of the study.
“I think that adolescents in general feel sort of isolated, so I think the emerging sexual gender identity serves to make people feel more isolated,” the Weinberg senior said. “I don’t find it surprising to hear that a support network is something that is really strongly correlated with suicide role.”
The study’s specific focus on youth was something Dirks said she found important. The adolescent stage of development is important in developing identity, a process that can be especially sensitive to victimization, she said.
“Developmentally, (the adolescent stage) is critical,” she said. “It’s an issue that as you mature as a person: You go through all kinds of identity development stages, and as you go through this, whether it’s around sexual or (other forms of) identity, if you’re bullied around those identities it can cause a lot of harm, especially in the formative stages of access.”
Programs such as Project ShoutOUT also focus on going into high schools to educate youth about the affects of bullying.
Project ShoutOUT programming co-chair Gabe Bergado said the project focuses on bullying related to LGBT and other social issues, such as class and minority issues, which he said were not emphasized in the “It Gets Better” project.
“We want to bring attention to those social aspects that intersect with the idea of It Gets Better,” the Medill sophomore said.
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port can also be provided through peer mentoring as part of Rainbow’s Guidance and Peer Solutions program, and Dirks added the LGBT resource center is working on ally development training.
“We want people to be educated and aware and stand up for LGBT people,” she said. “We spend time educating people and empowering them to become sense.”