A community that was supportive of gay teens not only curbed suicide among gays, the study found, but also lowered the rate of suicide attempts by heterosexual students by 9%.
Researchers led by Mark Hatzenbuehler looked at five aspects of the social environment surrounding gay, lesbian and bisexual youth on a countywide level: the proportion of schools with anti-bullying policies specifically protecting these students; the proportion of schools with a Gay-Straight Alliance; the proportion of schools with anti-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation; the proportion of same-sex couples; and the proportion of Democrats in the county. Then they rated each of Oregon's 34 counties based on the results of those findings.
The study found that a more supportive social environment was associated with 20% fewer suicide attempts than an unsupportive environment. A supportive environment was also associated with a 9% lower rate of attempted suicide among heterosexual students.
"That suggest that when you create environments supportive for lesbian, gay and bisexual youths, it creates a healthier environment for all youths," Hatzenbuehler told Oregon Live.
Of the 1,400 of teens surveyed, 4% to 5% identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Of those students, nearly 22 out of every 100 said they had attempted suicide in the last year. Only 4% of kids who identified themselves as heterosexual said they had attempted suicide.
"Regardless of your views, our data suggest that the inclusion of Gay-Straight Alliances and anti-discrimination programs can have really important mental-health outcomes for our youths," Hatzenbuehler told CBS News. "This is a road map to how we can begin to reduce teen suicide."
Hatzenbuehler studied children in Oregon -- through responses from nearly 32,000 11th-graders in 2006, 2007 and 2008 -- because it is the only state that tracks sexual orientation and suicide attempts in enough detail to compare social factors.