LGBTQ support programs in schools could significantly reduce suicide attempts, binge drinking and other risky behaviours among both straight and sexual minority students, according to a new report by UBC and youth non-profit, the McCreary Centre Society.
The researchers reviewed North American studies of LGBTQ programs and extrapolated the results into a typical B.C. secondary school with 1,000 students. They found that interventions such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs)—student clubs for social justice or social support—could lead to seven fewer suicidal attempts, saving a school as much as $71,540 in health-care costs per year.
“GSAs could also mean 41 fewer students engaging in binge drinking and 16 fewer students with problem drug use,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Saewyc, a nursing professor who heads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre in UBC’s school of nursing.
Other interventions such as LGBTQ-inclusive programs and policies, which fight homophobia and bullying, were also effective in curbing health-compromising behaviours. The analysis showed that they could contribute to four fewer suicide attempts a year in an average school with 1,000-students, plus 37 fewer students reporting binge drinking, and 21 fewer students with problems from drug use.
“Research already tells us that school interventions can be powerful tools in reducing the health gap between LGBTQ youth and their straight peers, so we wanted to translate the science into a detailed picture of what these programs could contribute for schools, without straining already tight budgets,” said Annie Smith, executive director of McCreary Centre Society, a non-profit committed to improving the health of B.C. youth through research, evaluation and community-based projects.
The report was prepared for Vancouver Coastal Health and funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
“This new analysis highlights the value of LGBTQ interventions in our schools both for straight and LGBTQ youth,” said Saewyc. “While more research is needed, particularly to establish the effect of inclusive curriculums, the evidence is already pointing the way forward.”