Suicide risk for gay, bisexual youth

Last updated 05:00 22/10/2009

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One-fifth of gay and bisexual youths have attempted suicide and about half have harmed themselves, a new report shows.

The Youth '07 report has revealed that more than a third of gay or bisexual secondary school pupils had seriously considered suicide in the past year.

The report, led by Dr Simon Denny, of Auckland University's adolescent health research group, also showed higher rates of alcohol and drug use, sexually transmitted infections, and mental-health problems among gay and bisexual pupils in comparison with their heterosexual peers.

Of the 8000 secondary pupils who responded to the university survey of their health and wellbeing, 92 per cent said they were heterosexual.

About 1 per cent said they were attracted to the same sex, 3.3 per cent to both sexes and 3.6 per cent were unsure or not attracted to either. Pacific and Asian youths were the most likely to say they were unsure about their sexual orientation.

About a third of the gay and bisexual pupils were aware of their sexuality at age 11 or younger. However, about two-thirds had not "come out".

Of those pupils who had made their preference public, less than a quarter could easily talk to their family about their sexuality.

For those who came out, there could be less emotional and financial support within their family and community, the report said.

Gay or bisexual pupils were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, or use other drugs.

They were also more likely to be sexually active.

Less than half of gay or bisexual males had used a condom the last time they had sex.

The emotional wellbeing of gays was not as good as that of their heterosexual peers.

While 93 per cent of heterosexual pupils were happy, satisfied or fine with their life, only 75 per cent of gays or bisexuals felt the same.

Gay or bisexual pupils were three times more likely to be bullied at school.

Canterbury University senior lecturer, and founder of Christchurch queer youth group Q-topia, Kathleen Quinlivan, said the report sent a clear message to schools and communities that they needed to involve gay youths in discussions to help counter prejudice and discrimination.

"We have known these things for quite some time about high levels of bullying and harassment and the fact is very little has changed or been done to begin to address these issues," she said.

Gay youths were still nervous about coming out as it would identify them as "different" when society was saying they should fit a certain mould.

"I wouldn't advise them to do that [come out] if they don't feel safe or think it won't be positive for them," she said.

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"If you're not feeling accepted for who you are, you are going to engage in risky behaviours."

- The Press

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