Health Buzz: Support Helps Prevent Suicide Among Gay Youth

How to identify suicide risk before it's too late; teen depression linked to Internet overuse.

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Study: Gay Teens' Suicide Risk Rises in Unsupportive Areas

Social environment plays a role in gay teens' suicide risk, new research suggests. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, but those who live in a supportive community are better off. They're about 25 percent less likely to attempt suicide than their counterparts in politically conservative areas that lack school programs supporting gay rights, according to a study published today in Pediatrics. The findings are based on an analysis of health surveys given to nearly 32,000 high school students in Oregon. The researchers say that expanding anti-bullying programs and anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, and creating programs like gay-straight alliances, could help reduce suicide attempts. "The results are pretty compelling," study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher, said in a press statement. "The good news is that this study suggests a road map for how we can reduce suicide attempts among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth."

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  • How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late

    Every 17 minutes, someone dies by suicide in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death for Americans, and while it often comes as a surprise to friends and loved ones, it is largely considered to be preventable if warning signs are heeded. "The tragedy of completed suicide is that most could have been prevented if family members knew what to look for," says Lisa Boesky, a psychologist and author of When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help—And What to Do About It. "Research shows that most people who die by suicide have a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, or [have] a substance abuse problem, or both," either diagnosed or undiagnosed, she says.

    Suicide has no "face," no race, no age or income level that indicates who is at risk. Often, experts say, it's a stressful or negative event that drives a person already struggling with depression to harm himself—including bad breakups, financial problems, or loss of a job or home. Such events can be a "very high-risk time," Boesky says. So the optimal way to intervene is to encourage a depressed person to get treatment early on. But because depression can bring a feeling of hopelessness, those affected sometimes don't believe that getting proper treatment will make them feel better, says Jeffrey Borenstein, a psychiatrist and CEO and medical director of Holliswood Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Queens, N.Y. If people with depression get help, he says, "they can regain their health and live a full, healthy life." [Read more: How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late.]

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    • Teen Depression Linked to Internet Overuse

      Teenagers who have an unhealthy dependence on the Internet are almost twice as likely to become depressed as other teens, giving parents yet another good reason to limit kids' screen time. So suggests a recent study published in Pediatrics, which tracked the Internet use of teenagers in China, where "Internet addiction" is considered a serious and growing problem.

      The researchers tracked 1,041 teenagers, finding out how much they used the Internet and whether that use was unhealthy. They used surveys similar to those used with pathological gamblers. A typical question asked: "How often do you feel depressed, moody, or nervous when you are offline, which goes away once you are back online?" The vast majority of the teens, 94 percent, weren't pathological Internet users. But 6 percent were considered moderately at risk. Nine months later, those students were 50 percent more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression than teens who were less dependent on the Internet, though they had not been depressed before.