Stormy Weather: This Fall the CDC Reported the Greatest Spike in the Number of Teen Suicides in 15 Years. What Does This Mean for Gay Youths?

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

AT 20, JACOB BRESLOW, a junior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is thriving. Right now he's part of a field-study program in London, where he's taking part in the United Kingdom's LGBT History Month. "I want to be a professor of queer theory, identity, and culture," he says confidently.

Things weren't always so great. Six years ago, in his hometown of Walnut Creek, Calif., an affluent suburb east of San Francisco, Breslow felt so ostracized after coming out during his freshman year of high school that he twice tried to kill himself. "The worst part for me was the isolation and thinking nobody cared, paired with people saying awful comments and teachers not doing anything," Breslow recalls.

The number of young people who have been in the straits once faced by Jacob made headlines in September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide rates among those ages 10 to 24 rose 8% from 2003 to 2004, the largest rise in 15 years. Some experts attributed the spike to a decline in antidepressant use among young people after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings in 2003 and 2004 that they could increase the incidence of suicidal thoughts or actions in that age group.

So just how many of those young people were LGBT? According to a CDC spokesperson, the data examined didn't reveal sexual orientation. However, numerous studies--particularly the anonymous Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from the handful of states and cities that ask participants about their sexual orientation--have found suicide ideation to be far more common among LGBT youths than among the broader youth population.

If you think that an increasingly gay-friendly culture and a recent blossoming of resources for young gay people has led to a declining suicide risk in that group, think again. As recently as 2005 a Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 3,522 students in relatively pro-gay Massachusetts found that sexual-minority adolescents were 2.5 times more likely than their straight peers to have hurt themselves on purpose, three times as likely to have seriously considered suicide, and four times as likely to have attempted it.

"I don't believe that suicide ideation has decreased because the culture is more accepting," says Charles Robbins, executive director of the Trevor Project, a nationwide crisis and suicide-prevention hotline for gay youths that he says receives more than 12,000 calls a year. "The majority of our calls come from outside large metropolitan areas," many of them from smaller communities in the Midwest and the South. …