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Health Risk Behaviors Among Homeless Teens

August 17, 2001

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

A study in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health explores the relationship of sexual orientation and gender and four sets of factors among homeless adolescents: family history, incarceration, substance use, and depression and suicide.

Data was collected from a sample of 532 (216 females and 316 males) homeless adolescents in Portland, OR. All participants provided data on sexual orientation with 391 reporting being heterosexual and 141 participants reporting being non-heterosexual.

Homelessness was defined as not spending more than 30 days total with parents or guardians in the six months prior to the study, not living with parents or guardians even temporarily in the 30 days prior to the study, and not having a stable residence. All participants were less than 21 years of age.

Results

Sexual Orientation

  • 67% of males and 38% of females reported being 100% heterosexual.

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  • 19% of males and 18% of females reported being mostly heterosexual.

  • 8% of males and 27% of females reported being bisexual.

  • 3% of males and 7% of females reported being 100% homosexual.

  • 2% of males and 5% of females reported being not sure.


Physical and Sexual Abuse

  • 66% of gay/bisexual males, 50% of heterosexual males, 62% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 63% of heterosexual females reported ever being physically abused in their lifetime.

  • 14% of gay/bisexual males, 14% of heterosexual males, 40% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 36% of heterosexual females reported ever being sexually abused in their lifetime.


Incarceration, Hospitalization, or Rehabilitation

  • 48% of gay/bisexual males, 53% of heterosexual males, 55% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 47% of heterosexual females reported ever being in a youth detention facility in their lifetime.

  • 39% of gay/bisexual males, 48% of heterosexual males, 28% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 22% of heterosexual females reported ever being in an adult jail facility in their lifetime.

  • 25% of gay/bisexual males, 24% of heterosexual males, 39% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 33% of heterosexual females reported ever being in a mental facility or hospital in their lifetime.

  • 25% of gay/bisexual males, 26% of heterosexual males, 32% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 17% of heterosexual females reported ever being in a drug rehabilitation facility in their lifetime.


Drug and Alcohol Use

  • 98% of gay/bisexual males, 99% of heterosexual males, 99% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 98% of heterosexual females reported ever consuming alcohol in their lifetime.

  • 93% of gay/bisexual males, 80% of heterosexual males, 99% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 90% of heterosexual females reported ever using marijuana in their lifetime.

  • 75% of gay/bisexual males, 82% of heterosexual males, 87% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 70% of heterosexual females reported ever using LSD in their lifetime.

  • 43% or of gay/bisexual males, 39% of heterosexual males, 40% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 24% of heterosexual females reported ever injecting drugs in their lifetime.

  • 39% of gay/bisexual males, 46% of heterosexual males, 44% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 37% of heterosexual females reported ever using cocaine in their lifetime.


Depression/Suicide Attempts

  • 55% of gay/bisexual males, 50% of heterosexual males, 70% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 62% of heterosexual females reported ever contemplating suicide in their lifetime.

  • 44% of gay/bisexual males, 33% of heterosexual males, 53% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 42% of heterosexual females reported ever attempting suicide in their lifetime.

  • 18% of gay/bisexual males, 10% of heterosexual males, 25% of lesbian/bisexual females, and 28% of heterosexual females reported ever being diagnosed with depression in their lifetime.

The findings suggest that the lifetime prevalence rates for several variables, such as drug use, depression, and suicide attempts are quite dissimilar from the prospectively measured rates. The authors note that many previous studies have asked only about lifetime experiences and suggest that such data may provide a misleading picture of current risk status and needs. They suggest that further studies that compare prospective finding with cross-sectional findings would be extremely useful.

They go on to say that the findings are consistent with other reports regarding the association between gay, lesbian, and bisexual status and suicidal ideation. The authors note that homeless youth who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual clearly are a troubled group with high rates of depression and injection drug use.

In conclusion, the findings of the study, especially those related to injection drug use, should be of significant concern to those who treat homeless adolescents.

For more information: J. W. Noell and J. M. Ochs, "Relationship of Sexual Orientation to Substance Use, Suicidal Ideation, Suicide Attempts, and Other Factors in a Population of Homeless Adolescents," Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 31-6.


Opportunities

Teaching Respect for All 2001, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is scheduled for September 21-23 in Alexandria, VA.

The goal of this conference is to build the capacity, conviction, and number of activists working to create a future in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Registration is $229; and partial, limited income and youth rates are available.

For more information:

GLSEN
121 West 27th Street, Suite 804
New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212/727-0135
Fax: 212/727-0254
Web site: http://www.glsen.org

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
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