Mental health problems more common among non-heterosexual people

The study, published in the February issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that discrimination against non-heterosexual people may be contributing to these higher levels of mental disorder. Lead researcher Dr Apu Chakraborty described the findings as “very worrying”.

Psychiatrists from UCL (University College London) and the University of Leicester teamed up to study rates of mental disorder among 7,403 adults living in the UK. They took the data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007. This was the first year in which the survey has included a question on sexual orientation and same-sex partnerships.

The researchers found that mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug dependence, were significantly more common among people who identified themselves as non-heterosexual.

For example, 4.1% of non-heterosexual people reported having had a depressive episode within the last week, compared to only 2.1% of heterosexual people. 10.4% of non-heterosexual people reported alcohol dependence compared to 5.4% of heterosexual people, and 8.6% of non-heterosexual people reported self-harming compared to 4.6% of heterosexual people. Overall, 40% of heterosexual people described themselves as being fairly or very happy, compared to just 30% of non-heterosexual people.

The researchers also found that non-heterosexual people were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation. A total of 4.9% of non-heterosexual people reported experiencing such discrimination in the last 12 months, compared to 1.6% in the heterosexual group.

Dr Chakraborty said: “This study is the first time the mental health and well-being of LGB people has been examined in a random sample of the general population.

“Our study confirms earlier work carried out in the UK, USA and Holland which suggests that non-heterosexual people are at higher risk of mental disorder, suicidal ideation, substance misuse and self-harm than heterosexual people.

“Although the absolute level of discrimination against non-heterosexual people was comparatively low, it was still significantly higher than against heterosexual people. It lends support to the idea that people who feel discriminated against experience social stressors, which in turn increases their risk of experiencing mental health problems. These higher levels of psychiatric problems in non-heterosexual people are very worrying. They call not only for a response by primary care and mental health services, but greater efforts at preventing these problems arising.”

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Chakraborty A, McManus S, Brugha TS, Bebbington P and King M. Mental health of the non-heterosexual population of England. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 198: 143-148