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Most gay youth not suicidal

Gay Men's Health Summit looks at mental wellness

Gay men's health issues are not yet a priority in mainstream society, says Olivier Ferlatte of the Community Based Research Centre. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

Despite the rash of suicides reported this fall, one researcher says the majority of gay youth are not suicidal.

Having examined BC Adolescent Health Surveys from 1997, 2003 and 2007, Dr Elizabeth Saewyc, of UBC and the McCreary Centre Society, presented some positive realities to the sixth annual Gay Men’s Health Summit held Nov 25 and 26 at SFU Harbour Centre.

“Two out of three gay or bi boys had no suicidal ideation,” Saewyc says. “And suicide attempts are even less common: 74 percent of gay or bi boys did not attempt suicide in the past year. Although the rates are higher than hetero teens, the majority of LGB teens are not attempting suicide, thinking about suicide, harming themselves — and that’s good news.”

Saewyc’s study, “Strong in Spite of Stigma,” also found that most gay and bi teens reported a lack of anxiety, despair and self-harm.

But government and policy makers tend to be problem-focused, Saewyc notes. So if an organization wants funding, it has to present a problem to get attention.

The healthy and happy gay and bi youth she describes in her report benefit from family connectedness, school connectedness, supportive teachers, caring other adults and self-esteem.

“Family connectedness reduces the odds of suicidal attempts by 96.5 percent,” she says. “School connectedness has an even stronger impact. When they feel safe, cared about, and by their school, they are 98 percent less likely to attempt suicide.”

Normally these teen studies ask about suicidal tendencies and unhappiness, Saewyc acknowledges. But if researchers stop focusing on the negative and look at the flip side instead, they may find more good news than bad.

Organized by the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC) in partnership with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM) and the BC Centre for Disease Control, this year’s health summit tried to reshape gay men’s thinking about their mental wellness.

Dr Terry Trussler of the CBRC thinks gay adults are eager to talk about their health. He presented preliminary findings from the 2010 Sex Now Survey, which drew nearly 8,000 respondents in every province and territory. “It’s a great population of men out there who have something to say.”

The survey found “huge differences” between men who identify as gay, and those who don’t but have sex with men.

Men who have sex with men but identify as straight or bisexual showed higher income levels, lower marginalization, lower mental distress and lower sexual risk, the study suggests.