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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 12 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 37
LGBT people suffer more mental health issues, get worse care, new study says
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LGBT people suffer more mental health issues, get worse care, new study says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

LGBT people are two to three times more likely to suffer a chronic psychological problem, such as depression, than their straight counterparts, a new study by the University of Cambridge says.

The study, published September 10 by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, was based on a survey of 2 million people, with 27,000 identifying as LGBT. It is reportedly the largest survey ever conducted of the LGBT community.

The University of Cambridge, in England, conducted the survey in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation.

LGBT respondents were far more likely to suffer from chronic psychological problems, the study found. While only 5% of straight men reported chronic mental health problems, 11% of Gay men and 15% of Bi men experienced chronic psychological issues.

There was a similar pattern amongst women, with 12% of Lesbians and 19% of Bi women suffering from a long-term psychological condition, compared to only 6% of straight women.

General health was also of a lower quality amongst the LGBT community, with 22% of Gay men and 26% of Bi men saying they had 'poor general health.' Among women, 25% of Lesbians and 31% of Bi women reported poor general health.

In contrast, only 20% of straight men and 21% of straight women described their health as 'poor.'

One explanation for the discrepancies in mental health may be found in another survey finding - LGBT patients are far less likely to trust their doctors and feel they have good communication with them.

The research showed that members of the LGBT community were 50% more likely then straight people to feel a lack of trust and communication with their doctors. The study also suggested that some had faced a hostile environment in which LGBT people were stigmatized by medical service providers.

This could lead to people postponing treatment, exacerbating pre-existing health conditions, the study noted.

The Cambridge research meshes closely with a similar study done by Gallup Healthways and UCLA's Williams Institute and released in August. That survey also showed that LGBT patients had worse health outcomes and less access to suitable care than their straight counterparts.

'The survey shows that sexual minorities suffer both poorer health and have worse experiences when they see their [general practitioner],' Professor Martin Roland, director of the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research, said. 'We need to ensure both that doctors recognize the needs of sexual minorities, and also that sexual minorities have the same experience of care as other patients.'

Straight University of Cambridge researchers struggled to explain why LGBT patients would distrust their doctors.

Emily Ranken, of Homerton College, Cambridge, suggested that the absence of LGBT issues from school sex education may be to blame.

'LGBT-specific issues were never mentioned in my sex ed classes at school,' she said. '[T]his has psychological implications - by omitting to teach any kind of queer sexuality, LGBT teenagers are given the impression that their sexuality is less valid and less acceptable, or just something their teachers (and by extension those in authority) don't quite know how to deal with.

'They have been taught that teachers, doctors, those in authority do not and will not understand any queer issues, however much nonsense that mind-set may actually be.'

Jasmine Walter, also at Homerton, agreed that a 'preconceived misconception' may contribute to this distrust.

'I might suggest that perhaps a significant part of the problem is due to personal paranoia, and not the fault of the medical practitioners ... perhaps I only say this because I'm in a very privileged position, and haven't ever really experienced serious hostility with regards to my sexuality.'

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