Correlation isn’t causation, but this is the most hope-building correlation I’ve seen this week.
Johns Hopkins researcher Julia Raifman, Ellen Moscoe, and S. Bryn Austin co-published a study of sixteen years of data from more than 26,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school students. A key finding?
In states that have legalized same-sex marriage, both heterosexual and LGB teens reported substantially fewer suicide attempts. By contrast, “in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change” from previous years. Read the study yourself.
One of my favorite hashtags on Twitter is #SDoH, which stands for social determinants of health. It includes news and research from a sector of public health that acknowledges we can’t be healthy or whole in isolation.
Our health is literally shaped by social factors, factors that take shape well above the level of individual will. From the availability of nutritious food in our neighborhoods to the wider legal climate in which we live, learn, and love, we’re formed by social determinants.
Reifman and her co-researchers acknowledge the impact of social stigma on teens’ mental health: the literature shows that “the confluence of labeling, stereotyping, differentiation from the norm, status loss, and discrimination in the context of differential power” are associated with outcomes like depression, suicide ideation, and neurological disorders.
The important principle here: stigma (imposed) and shame (received) have physiological consequences, and improving the social environment improves individual outcomes.
As Dr. Mario Martinez writes, “In general, our biology adjusts to our cultural beliefs; and in particular, our immune system confirms the operative consciousness with which we choose to view our world.”
Martinez studies psychoneuroimmunology (he calls the field biocognition). He explains how our bodies interact with our experiences, how our emotional states aren’t merely “neurological”—brain-centric—but diffused throughout the systems of the body, and how social interactions like compassion and shame play out physically.
We look askance on industrial companies for their toxic waste dumps: how dare them foul the land and water that we depend on? But what consequences are there for those who dump stigma on marginalized and vulnerable people?