Greater Mental Health Risk For Sexual Minorities

One of America’s leading health surveys has revealed the medical consequences of discrimination felt by lesbian, gay and bisexual adults.

The National Health Interview Survey conducted by Vanderbilt University set out to establish a baseline of the physical and mental health status of sexual minorities.

“Findings from our study indicate that LGB adults experience significant health disparities – particularly in mental health and substance use – likely due to the minority stress that LGB adults experience as a result of their exposure to both interpersonal and structural discrimination,” said co-author Gilbert Gonzales.

The researchers discovered:

  • Gay, bisexual and heterosexual men reported similar levels of self-rated health, functional status and physical health.
  • While 16.9 percent of heterosexual men had moderate or severe psychological distress, 25.9 percent of gay men and 40.1 percent of bisexual men reported those levels of distress.
  • Bisexual men reported the highest prevalence of heavy drinking at 10.9 percent compared with heterosexual (5.7 percent) or gay (5.1 percent) men.
  • Gay and bisexual men were more likely to be current smokers compared with heterosexual men but bisexual men were most like to be heavy smokers (9.3 percent) compared with heterosexual (6.0 percent) and gay (6.2 percent) men.
  • 21.9 percent of heterosexual women showed symptoms of moderate and severe psychological distress compared with lesbian (28.4 percent) and bisexual (46.4 percent) women.

The report’s authors believe the higher prevalence and risk of psychological distress among bisexual adults in particular is the result of them being marginalised by the heterosexual population and experiencing stigma from gay and lesbian adults.

Dr Mitchell Katz from JAMA Internal Medicine believes health care professionals have a role to play in fixing the problem.

“For example, asking a new patient whether he or she has sex with men, women or both indicates openness and acceptance. Whatever the answer, following up by asking of the patient has a special partner shows interest and willingness to discuss intimate issues. In caring for people who have experienced bias and discrimination, support is a very potent medicine,” he says.