Wednesday 17 January 2018

Making a simplistic connection ignores complexity of the issue

The link between homosexuality and the instance of people dying by suicide is not proven, writes Patricia Casey

Former President Mary McAleese. Mark Condren
Former President Mary McAleese. Mark Condren

Patricia Casey

Former president Mary McAleese gave an interview to George Hook of Newstalk 106fm earlier this week. In the course of that interview, she referred to a meeting she had with the Papal Nuncio in Dublin in 2014: "The point I made with the Nuncio was the issue of self-harm and suicide. We have, in Ireland, a very serious problem of youth suicide and we now know from the evidence that one of the most at-risk groups or cohorts within that age group of 15 to 25 is the young male homosexual."

This comment has been widely interpreted as indicating that homosexual young men are dying by suicide more commonly than non-gay men. This claim was a surprise to me because I have been publishing scientific papers on suicidal behaviour for many years, the most recent being in December 2014, but I was not aware of any Irish or international study showing that death by suicide, specifically, was higher in young gay men than in other groups. Although I am aware that a question hangs over this.

Both nationally and internationally, there are studies showing that young gay men and women are more likely than non-gay people to suffer with a range of mental health problems.

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