Discrimination possibly linked to increased levels of mental disorder
By Ashwin, UK Correspondent
Dec 6, 2004, 06:17

A new survey has found high levels of discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women. Many of those discriminated against attributed it to their sexuality. This was the first large, UK-based comprehensive survey of psychological well-being amongst these groups. Published in the December issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study suggested that experiences of discrimination appear to be linked with higher rates of mental disorder.

There is currently little research into the mental health of gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women in the UK. The study set out to assess rates and possible predictors of mental illness in these groups.

741 men (656 gay, 85 bisexual) and 544 women (430 lesbian, 114 bisexual) in England and Wales took part in the survey. Each participant was asked to complete a computer-based questionnaire investigating a variety of health and social outcomes.

83% of the sample reported having experienced at least one of the following: damage to property, personal attacks or verbal insults in the past five years, or insults or bullying at school. 66% of those who had experienced discrimination attributed this to their sexuality, in particular bisexuals.

High rates of planned and actual deliberate self-harm, and high levels of psychiatric problems, were found among gay men (42%), lesbians (43%) and bisexual men and women (49%) compared with previous community surveys of mainly heterosexual people. 31% of those studied had attempted suicide.

Compared with older participants, people under the age of 40 appeared to be at higher risk of mental disorder, harmful drinking and considering self-harm. This finding contrasts with greater openness about sexuality in this age group.

A possible reason for this could be that younger people are more exposed to acts of discrimination; alternatively, being open about sexuality may lead to more insults and assaults, and hence worse mental health. Another explanation could be that younger people are more likely to disclose these issues.

Gay men in particular seem to be aware of their sexuality from a young age, with 74% of the sample stating that they were aware they were gay before the age of 15. This strongly suggests that homosexuality is innate rather than a 'lifestyle choice'.

The authors of the study comment that the findings suggest that people who identified themselves as bisexual were not simply gay or lesbian and reluctant to identify themselves as such.

Bisexual respondents in the study were less open than gays and lesbians about their sexuality with family and friends, and felt less comfortable about it. The authors suggest that bisexual people should be treated as a separate group for the purposes of health-related research.

They conclude that strategies are needed that raise awareness of the vulnerability of gay, lesbian and bisexual people to psychological distress and self-harm.

Paper reference
Warner J, McKeown E, Griffin M, Johnson K, Ramsay A, Cort C and King M (2004) Rates and predictors of mental illness in gay men, lesbians and bisexual men and women. British Journal of Psychiatry, 185, 479-485.

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