POSTED: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 7:00am
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 7:04am
CNN — Whether it "gets better" for gay or bisexual youth who experience bullying depends on how you look at it, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents are victims of bullying twice as often as their heterosexual peers. But research finds that the overall incidence decreases after high school, particularly among girls. However, the scars of emotional distress remain significantly higher in LGB youth.
"What we see is, slightly over half of LGB teens are bullied when they're ages 13 to 14, and then when they're ages 19 to 20, the rates of bullying are fewer than 10 percent," said study author Joseph Robinson from the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Robinson says these numbers support the message of the "It Gets Better Project." The project features user-created videos and was designed to remind lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teenagers "the levels of happiness, potential and positivity their lives will reach - if they can just get through their teen years," according to its website.
"These data provide strong empirical support that it does get better," Robinson said. "We've been hearing ... this message of hope. These data are consistent."
Researchers studied 4,135 students in England who were in year 9 (equal to eighth grade in the United States) in 2004-- half boys and half girls. All were white and British. Of the total group, 4.5% identified themselves as LGB. Participants were interviewed annually through 2010.
At the start, researchers surveyed parents about whether their child was called names.
Throughout the study, the students answered questions about being bullied through name-calling, threats of physical violence against them or actual physical violence within the year prior. They also reported if they felt unhappy, depressed or worthless.
The numbers of LGB youth who reported being victim to bullying significantly dropped overall. However, the decrease was not seen when gay/bisexual boys were compared to heterosexual boys. In fact, gay/bisexual males were more than four times as likely to report bullying at the end of the study, when the participants were ages 19 to 20.
"We need to better understand why (relative) rates of bullying get worse for gay/bisexual males after high school," Robinson said.
One year after high school ended, LGB youth had significantly more emotional distress than their heterosexual peers.
Robinson says the study suggests a need to focus on reducing bullying.
"Bullying and emotional distress during high school predict about half of the LGB-straight disparity in emotional distress after high school, suggesting that we may be able to reduce that disparity by reducing bullying during high school and treating earlier emotional distress," he said.
The study authors note the data is self-reported and the results may not generalize to other countries, even though there was no reason to suspect different results between the United Kingdom and the United States.