Research from the University of Washington reveals that being victimized because of sexual orientation is a significant risk factor for suicidal behavior among gay, lesbian and bisexual college students. Researcher Heather Murphy also uncovered a group of students who previously had not been studied and are also at increased risk for suicidal behavior. These students identified themselves as heterosexual, but also reported being attracted to people of the same sex or engaging in same-sex behavior.
This hitherto unrecognized group was three times as likely as heterosexuals to have made a plan to commit suicide in the past year and six times more likely to have actually attempted suicide in the same period. Gay, lesbian and bisexual students also were at increased risk for suicidal behavior. They were twice as likely as heterosexuals to have planned and to have attempted suicide in the previous year.
"A lot of people stop thinking about sexual orientation related victimization and suicide as a problem beyond the K-12 school years," Murphy noted. "But suicide doesn't stop after high school. I thought I wouldn't find very much victimization in Seattle, and I certainly wasn't expecting these kinds of numbers."
Data from Murphy's study showed that gay, lesbian and bisexuals and the same-sex attracted heterosexuals experienced significantly more verbal and physical victimization than did heterosexual students. Verbal victimization included homophobic statements, hearing others talk about gays, lesbian and bisexuals in derogatory terms, and being harassed for their sexual orientation. Physical victimization included being physically threatened or assaulted and getting into fights. Murphy said victimization for some students was "pervasive" on campus while others didn't want to go off campus because they feared being harassed.
"There is a lot of hype that gay kids are more suicidal," she said. "My study shows that this is not so. In my study, being victimized for being gay was the risk factor that increased suicidal-behavior risk." She added that the high suicidal-behavior rate among the same-sex attracted heterosexuals was a surprise, primarily because researchers previously had not looked at them as a separate group. "I was shocked by the finding because the rate for these students was just off the charts."
Murphy hypothesizes that these people are still in the process of determining their sexual identity and the period before they disclose that they might be gay, lesbian or bisexual is difficult and they engage in suicidal thinking. "They are still trying to fit into the mainstream heterosexual society and are not willing to talk to friends or go to a queer center to talk about what they are experiencing," she said. "The gay culture has a family feeling that is welcoming and shows pride. However, these students are not there yet so they may be feeling shame and homophobia."
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Source: University of Washington