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Mueller, A.S., James, W., Abrutyn, S., & Levin, M.L. (2015). Suicide ideation and bullying among US adolescents: Examining the intersections of sexual orientation, gender, and race/ethnicity. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 980-985.

LGB youths have higher odds of reporting suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts; studies show that when youths attend schools with cultures that are more likely to stigmatize LGB youths, their mental health outcomes are worse. Of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender 6th- to 12th-grade students from the 2011 National School Climate Survey of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 55% reported some form of electronic harassment. Additionally, estimates indicate that between 80% and 91% of LGBT students reported being the victim of name calling and verbal harassment in the school setting, and at least 40% have been physically harassed. Whether the harassment is online or in person does not change the negative effects victimization can have on adolescents’ mental health. Youths who are bullied are more likely to report depression, low self-esteem, poor school performance, and suicide attempts. Previous research suggests that males are more likely than females to report being bullied and that white adolescents are more likely than black adolescents to report being bullied. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network 2011 National School Climate Survey found that Black LGBT students were less likely to report physical or verbal harassment because of their sexuality than their white, Hispanic, or multiracial LGBT peers. Hispanic LGBT youths appear to experience equally levels of harassment with their white peers: 62% of Hispanic LGBT youths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation compared with 65% of white LGBT youths. In terms of gender differences, Russell et al. (2014) found that bisexual boys reported more experiences of victimization than did other groups of sexual minority and majority youths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent report found that female adolescents report suicide ideation, plans, and attempts more frequently than male adolescents do. Hispanic females have the highest prevalence of suicide attempts (17.6%) followed by black females (13.9%) and white females (13.7%). This study examines how race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation shape adolescents’ likelihood of being bullied and vulnerability to suicide ideation.

Method:

This study used state and local data from the 2009 and 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to assess race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation variation in being bullied and suicide ideation. To assess suicide ideation, adolescents were asked, “During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?” Bullying was represented in two contexts, school and Internet. “During the past 12 months, have you been bullied on school property?” and “During the past 12 months, have you ever been electronically bullied?” were used to assess bullying. Sexual orientation was assessed with the following question: “Which of the following best describes you?” Results included “heterosexual,” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “not sure.” Respondents were also asked to identify their race; the researchers constructed three categories: non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic/Latino/Latina.

Results:

Black and Hispanic heterosexual males were less likely than white heterosexual males to report being bullied. However, white and Hispanic gay and bisexual males were significantly more likely than white heterosexual males to report being bullied. Black and Hispanic heterosexual females were less likely than white heterosexual females to report being bullied. However, white lesbian and bisexual females and Hispanic bisexual females were more likely than their white heterosexual peers to report being bullied. Sexual minority males and females regardless of their race were significantly more likely than their white heterosexual peers to report suicidal ideation. For both males and females, being bullied significantly increased the likelihood that respondents would report suicidal ideation. Black heterosexual females were significantly more likely to report suicidal ideation than their white heterosexual peers.

Discussion:

The results found imply that being bullied is associated with higher odds of suicidal ideation, regardless of an adolescent’s gender, race/ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Regardless of race/ethnicity or gender, sexual minorities are more vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes than are sexual majorities.