A popular anti-bullying campaign has been telling bullied teens “it gets better” — but the effects of past bullying often linger, according to new research.
The study, released Monday (May 16) in the May 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of School Health, reports that anti-LGBT bullying at school “is strongly linked” to negative mental health for its victims.
Among those risks are an increased frequency of suicide attempts and increased risk for engaging in behaviors that can lead to infection with STDs and HIV. The increased risks exist not only while the victim is in adolescence, but also in young adulthood.
It should come as no surprise that there is a link between the bullying of LGBT students and negative mental health consequences.
Several suicides of LGBT teens in the past year, motivated at least in part by relentless bullying because they are or were perceived to be LGBT, have made headlines and prompted an outpouring of support for LGBT youth from individuals, corporations, and politicians. Syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better Project” last September to provide youth with videos of LGBT adults and allies who reassure them that life does get better and encourage them to seek help from an adult.
But, until now, there have been no formal studies of the long-term effects of such bullying on LGBT people in the United States.
The new research, by Dr. Stephen T. Russell, distinguished professor at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, found that youth victimized in school because of their LGBT identity reported much greater problems with health and social adjustment in young adulthood than those experiencing low or moderate levels of school victimization.
Ryan said the research provides important empirical evidence about the relationship between bullying and its impact and that this evidence will “help us do something about it.”
Ryan and Russell surveyed 245 LGBT young adults (white and non-white Latino/a) ages 21 to 25. They asked them about their experiences during adolescence with bullying and harassment based on their known or perceived LGBT identity.
The researchers asked each participant to indicate the number of times he or she had experienced each of 10 different actions—such as being hit by a fellow student—because the other person knew or assumed him/her to be LGBT.
The responses to each item were assigned scores as follows: 0=never, 1=once or twice, 2=a few times, 3=many times. The researchers categorized those having total scores between 0 and 2 as having “low” levels of victimization; those between 3 and 10 as having “moderate” levels, and those between 10 and 28 as having “high” levels.
Thirty-seven percent of students (91 participants) had “low” levels of being bullied; 31 percent (75 participants) had “moderate” levels, and 32 percent (79 participants) had “high” levels.
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