from Medical Issues
By Roy Waller
The findings of a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (December 2003) suggest higher incidences of illegal drug usage, alcoholism, psychological problems, and violence in the gay community than in the general population.
"Gay men and lesbians reported more psychological distress than heterosexual women, despite similar levels of social support and quality of physical health," the researchers reported (p. 556).
The controlled, cross-sectional study was conducted in both England and Wales. No European study in mental health, according to the researchers, has ever before recruited over a thousand gay and lesbian participants.
Surveying a total of 1,161 men (656 self-identified gay, 505 self-identified heterosexual) and 1,018 women (430 self-identified as lesbian, 588 self-identified as straight), the researchers said their main goal was "to compare psychological status, quality of life and use of mental health by lesbians and gay men with heterosexual people."
The researchers found that homosexual males and females both tended to score higher on scales of psychological distress than did their heterosexual counterparts. Further, they were found to be more likely to have used recreational drugs and to have inflicted deliberate harm upon themselves. Gays of both genders were also found to have consulted mental health professionals more frequently than the straight participants.
Additionally, the researchers found that the lesbian participants were the most frequent victims of physical intimidation and violence. Lesbians were also found to be "more likely than heterosexual women to drink excessively."
But bullying at school, the study noted, was reported no more often by gay men than by heterosexual men. Reports that gay men and lesbians are disproportionately vulnerable to school harassment "are often taken at face value," the researchers noted, with researchers failing to draw a comparison to heterosexual students, who--at least in this study--were found to suffer similar high rates of school bullying and harassment.
The actual impetus for this study was, as noted in the paper itself, that "little is known about the mental health of gay men and lesbians living in Europe...almost all data is North American and there are few data for Europe."
Termed the "Sexuality and Well Being Study," the research was conducted by a team headed by Michael King, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Royal Free Campus, London; Eammon McKeowan, Ph.D, of the Royal Free and University Medical School, London, and James Warner, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, Imperial College, London.
Among the very detailed findings reported, the doctors and their associates present the following statistical data:
In speculating about the reasons for the higher level of psychological problems, the researchers offered the commonly proposed theory that social discrimination could be a source of the problems. But they added that they were not suggesting--as did Bailey (1999) in a prominent prior study--that the higher level of mental disorders could be because homosexuality might constitute a "developmental error."
However, the researchers did note that "gay men and lesbians may have lifestyles that make them vulnerable to psychological disorder. Such lifestyles may include increased use of drugs and alcohol."
The study, which was conducted between September 2000 and July 2002, was the largest ever attempted in Europe.
Bailey, J.M., "Commentary: Homosexuality and Mental Illness," Archives of General Psychiatry, October 1999, vol. 56, no. 10, 876-880.
King, M., E. McKeown, J. Warner, A. Ramsay, K. Johnson, C. Cort, L. Wright, R. Blizard, and O. Davidson, "Mental Health and Quality of Life of Gay Men and Lesbians in England and Wales, British J. of Psychiatry (2003),183, 552-558.