DelVal prof. sheds light on gay, lesbian, bisexual youth suicide

A Delaware Valley University professor has been working with a team of researchers to understand factors that can contribute increased risk of suicide for LGBT youth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay and bisexual students in grades 7 through 12 are twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual classmates.

Dr. Audrey Ervin, an associate professor of counseling psychology at DVU, recently co-authored research on suicide risk within this population.

“We all have a responsibility to play a role in creating safe spaces for sexual minorities,” Ervin said. “The consequences when we fail to do that can be dire.”

The study, titled “Predictors of Sexual Minority Youth’s Reported Suicide Attempts and Mental Health,” found that negative feelings the teens had about themselves or their sexual orientation played a less important role in suicide risk than their relationships with other people did. Relationships with friends and family were among the most significant predictors of suicide risk.

According to the study, teens who lost friends after coming out were 29 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. Those who experienced psychological mistreatment from caregivers were 9.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt.

According to Ervin, the research has implications for school counselors, community organizations and mental health professionals, who should be sensitive to peer relationships when working with at risk lesbian, gay or bisexual teens.

“The study highlights the importance of creative positive, affirming support systems for sexual minority youth,” Ervin said.

Ervin is the academic program director for the university’s graduate counseling psychology program. She is also a practicing psychologist in Doylestown.

Read the abstract here.

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