Psychological Stress for Gay and Lesbian Youth

This study from Chicago measured the level of psychological distress in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths. The researchers examined various mental health problems in LGBT youths such as depression, conduct disorders, post-traumatic stress and suicidal tendencies. It was observed in the study that the prevalence of mental health problems was much higher in the study group compared to existing population-based data.  Racial/ethnic minority participants were also a focus with the theory that the subgroup might have even more mental disorders.  This subgroup, however, did not show any higher levels of psychological distress or mental disorders than the Caucasian Americans in the group, except for conduct disorder. Rates of suicidal tendencies did not differ between the study group and the population-based data.

Most of the earlier studies on lesbians, gays and bisexuals were done on adults. It was proven in all those studies that the incidence of mental disorders was more frequent in the LGBT population. In the present study, researchers wanted to study psychological problems in LGBT youths. All the previous studies had focused more on suicidal tendency. The current study, in addition, looked at other mental disorders such as conduct disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia and bulimia. In addition, unlike earlier methods, a new computer-based “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” was used to provide a more accurate measurement of mental distress. Furthermore, this study examined the extent of mental health problems in people of different ethnicities.

* From Chicago, 246 youngsters (aged 16 to 20 years old) of different ethnicities participated in the study. They identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
* The participants’ mental health for one year was diagnosed by using the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
* The youngsters were also asked to evaluate their psychological distress over the past week using a self-reporting questionnaire.
* Prevalence of various psychological disorders was assessed, and later compared with frequency of mental health problems in the general population.

* Approximately one-third of participants had some form of mental health problem.
* Seventeen percent of participants had conduct disorder, 15 percent suffered from depression, and 9 percent had post-traumatic stress disorder. Incidentally, very few cases of bulimia and anorexia were reported.
* Thirty-one percent had attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime.

One of the shortcomings of this study is that the participants were not randomly recruited. Secondly, the study was not demographically represented, as 86 percent of the participants were of racial/ethnic minority groups, a much higher percentage than otherwise estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau (69 percent). Finally, comparison of data should have been done with a purely heterosexual sample population; but due to unavailability of such a sample, existing population-based data was used.

The study authors state, “We emphasize that the prevalence of mental disorder and suicidal behaviors in our sample are sufficiently high to warrant special attention to the needs of this population.” Slowly there is widespread social acceptance of these sexual minority populations. Hence further studies are necessary to identify the changes in mental health status of these populations with changes in social perceptions. It is hoped that with wider acceptance of sexual minorities, there might be less correlation between sexual orientation and mental health disorders. The researchers also mention that rather than using self-reporting questionnaires to diagnose mental health problems, it is preferable to use a validated diagnostic tool for identifying depression in individuals.

For More Information:
Mental Health Disorders, Psychological Distress and Suicidal Tendency in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youths
Publication Journal: American Journal of Public Health, December 2010
By Brian S. Mustanski, PhD; Robert Garofalo, MD; University of Illinois, Chicago; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; and the Howard Brown Health Center, Chicago, Illinois

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