BALTIMORE — Legalizing same-sex marriage has a positive effect upon the mental health of young adults, a new study suggests.
The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, referenced a survey supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), collecting data from 1999 to 2015— the latter year corresponds to when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the practice be legal nationwide.
Comparing states that did pass legislation before the Court’s ruling to those that did not, researchers were able to find that such legalization was correlated with a 7% reduction in suicide attempts amongst high school students.
Youths in states that legalized same-sex marriage who were actually LGBT saw their suicide attempt rate decrease by double: 14%. This effect— which was not demonstrated in states that did not legalize gay marriage — lasted for at least two years.
This study comes at an opportune time, considering that youth suicide attempt rates have been increasing in America. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 15-to 24-year-olds, and attempts requiring medical attention rose by 47% in between 2009 and 2015.
Most strikingly, 29% of LGBT youth were reported to have attempted suicide at some point, compared to only 6% of straight teens.
“These are high school students, so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” study leader Julia Raifman, ScD, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the university, says in a release. “Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights – even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them – that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”
Raifman advises politicians “to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents.” In other words, public policy officials have more power than they think.