Being different than other people — whether it means your race, gender, or sexual orientation — is often a source of stress in our society today. People of minority sexual orientations often feel that stress most acutely, according to the evidence.
A systematic review published this month found that people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual suffer from depression at significantly higher rates than those who identify as heterosexual; the risks are even higher for homosexual and bisexual youth.
The review included 199 studies investigating the mental health of sexual minorities compared to heterosexual people. Ninety-eight percent of the studies found lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and even those who are questioning their sexuality, are at an increased risk for attempting suicide.
There is also evidence that sexual minorities suffer from anxiety disorders at higher rates and are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs compared to heterosexual people.
Challenges such as the stigma associated with sexual minorities, discrimination, family disapproval, social rejection, and violence are among the factors that can lead to mental health problems, said Janis Whitlock, a research scientist in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Transnational Research and Director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery.
“It is increasingly clear that sexual orientation and identity are important factors in understanding health and other wellbeing outcomes,” she said. “Although the reasons for this are unclear, sensitivity to the relationship between these are critical for protecting vulnerable people and populations.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recognized the problem, and sponsors research and programs designed to address the problem including training for teachers, school clubs for sexual minority students and classroom teaching about sexual orientation.
The take-home message here is incredibly clear: sexual minorities and people questioning their sexuality suffer from mental health problems at higher rates than the general public. This evidence demands new approaches to the ways our society addresses the challenges and needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.