Social Factors May Make Gay Men Suicidal

By Bower, B. | Science News, October 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Social Factors May Make Gay Men Suicidal


Bower, B., Science News


Several studies have found that homosexual men attempt to commit suicide at rates higher than those of heterosexual men or the U.S. population at large. Some investigators suggest that higher rates of depression and substance abuse among gay men account for their increased tendency to attempt suicide.

New work, however, indicates that a disproportionate number of homosexual men report suicidal behaviors regardless of whether they suffer from depression or substance abuse. Reasons for this tendency remain unclear, but the results are consistent with a major influence of family rejection and other social clashes on suicide attempts, says a team led by epidemiologist Richard Herrell of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Herrell and his coworkers conducted telephone interviews with each twin of 103 pairs, ages 35 to 53. In each set of twins, one man had previously reported having at least one male sex partner after age 18 and the other reported having sex only with females.

The twins, including identical and fraternal pairs, were part of a larger investigation of substance abuse in approximately 3,400 twin pairs. All of them had served in the U.S. military between 1965 and 1975.

Nearly 15 percent of the participants with male sex partners had tried to commit suicide, compared with 4 percent of the heterosexual twins, Herrell's group reports in the October ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY. Homosexual twins also reported substantially more periods of contemplating their own death or the demise of others, wanting to die, and thinking about committing suicide.

After the researchers used statistical means to remove the effects of major depression and substance-use disorders, the homosexual twins still showed substantial elevation in all the measures of suicidal tendencies except wanting to die.

Another study, directed by psychologist David M. …

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