Examining Health Disparities — Including High Rates of Depression — Among Sexual Minorities

Charlie Plain | July 26, 2017
Carrie Henning-Smith
Researcher Carrie Henning-Smith

New research from the School of Public Health shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults in the United States experience disproportionately worse mental and physical health compared with their heterosexual counterparts.

“In particular, we found higher rates of depression and mental distress for LGB adults across the board, and higher rates of various poor health outcomes, chronic conditions, and poor health behaviors for different sexual minority groups,” says study co-author and researcher Carrie Henning-Smith.

The study, which uses data from a large national survey of 300,000 adults and was co-authored by SPH alumnus Dr. Gilbert Gonzales of Vanderbilt University, was published in the Journal of Community Health.

The rates of depression were most pronounced for both sexual minority men and women in the study. Gay men were nearly three times as likely as heterosexual men to be depressed, and bisexual men were approximately 2.5 times as likely to be depressed. Lesbian women were nearly twice as likely as heterosexual women to be depressed along with bisexual women who were more than three times as likely to be depressed.

Henning-Smith said that the findings highlight several important issues.

“We should be concerned about the mental health and well-being of sexual minority adults, especially as it is related to discriminatory policies and the environments and experiences of minority stress,” says Henning-Smith. “Also, there is diversity within the sexual minority community by gender and sexual orientation — not all LGB adults have the same health experiences and risks. This means more research is needed on the causes of these health disparities and what can be done to address them.”

The researchers said policymakers can begin working today to eliminate the disparities by creating initiatives to train health professionals on specific to the needs and concerns of the LGB population. They also suggest establishing programs for LGB individuals that improve health and reduce stress; reduce and prohibit discrimination; and improve data collection for the group, such as including questions about sexual orientation in more national surveys.

Henning-Smith and Gonzales are continuing to examine health disparities among sexual minorities, including looking at barriers to accessing health care for transgender adults.

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