Survey results from about 68,000 people show lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are at an increased risk of physical and mental health problems compared to heterosexual Americans. What we ~all~ can do about it.
Following a very pride-filled weekend, some sobering news: the LGB community is more likely to experience psychological distress, drink and smoke heavily, and have impaired physical health compared to their heterosexual peers, according to a new JAMA Internal Medicine study.
Using data from the 2013 and 2014 National Health Interview Survey, which included a question on sexual orientation for the first time ever, researchers compared health issues of heterosexuals to lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans. Similar studies have been done before, but this one was much larger in scale (nearly 70,000 people answered it!), making it more representative of the U.S. population. Survey respondents were asked to identify as lesbian or gay, straight, bisexual, something else, don't know, or refuse to answer. Researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and University of Minnesota School of Public Health focused on those who identified in one of the first three groups and then looked at how they answered questions about their physical health, mental health, and alcohol and cigarette use.
The results showed gay and bisexual men in particular were more likely to report severe psychological distress (6.8 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively, compared to 2.8 percent of straight men), heavy drinking, and moderate to heavy smoking. Compared to heterosexual women, lesbian women reported more instances of psychological distress, more than one chronic condition (such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes, or arthritis), heavy alcohol and cigarette use, and poor to fair overall health. Bisexual women were also more likely to report chronic conditions and substance abuse. They were also significantly more likely to report battling severe psychological distress (over 11 percent of bisexual women reported it compared to 5 percent of lesbian women and 3.8 percent of heterosexual women). See: 3 Health Problems Bisexual Women Need to Know About.
"We know from prior research that being a member of a minority group, especially one that has a history of experiencing stigma and discrimination, can lead to chronic stress, which in turn can lead to poorer mental and physical health," says Carrie Henning-Smith, Ph.D., MPH, MSW, a co-author on the study. Henning-Smith and her fellow researchers noted that health care providers and policymakers should take these differences into account to ensure everyone is treated fairly. "This should include addressing bullying in schools, passing anti-discrimination laws for employment in all 50 states, and protection from stigma and violence in all areas of society," Henning-Smith says. "Health care providers should be trained on the unique needs of this population and should pay particular attention to their elevated risks."
As for you: Look out for symptoms of these health issues if these findings apply to you, and—no matter your sexual orientation—this study should serve as a reminder that acceptance and support are crucial parts of living a healthy life. Bottom line? Support. Accept. Love.