Mental Health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex mental health.

You've probably heard the news around town, LGBTI people are awesome. Yep, YOU ROCK. Let's be real, living and surviving in a world that can often treat LGBTI people poorly can feel tough. For some it can be really hard and seriously impact their mental health. LGBTI people experience high levels of discrimination, prejudice, violence, abuse and judgment. This can often be identified as homphobia, biphobia, transphobia or for intersex people it can be experienced as stigma and discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics and assumptions about identities. This can occur within the context of school, work, home, sport, the general public, with doctors, legislation, institutions, media or pretty much anywhere. This behaviour can be obvious and blatant or it can be more subtle, passive and even entrenched in systems and laws.

Yet despite these odds, LGBTI people continue to survive and alot of us thrive. It's important to acknowledge the strength and resilience our communities have developed over time and to celebrate this aspect of LGBTI mental health.

This section will explore some of the key factors affecting LGBTI mental health.

Key Factors

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender and gender diverse people are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the broader population. They are also at a greater risk of suicide and self-harm.

Among LGBTI populations, research clearly indicates that discrimination, abuse (both verbal and physical), exclusion and prejudice are key contributors to the increased rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm.

Factors affecting LGBTI people

The majority of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. However, studies have found that non-heterosexual people face up to twice as much abuse or violence (including physical, mental, sexual or emotional) than their heterosexual counterparts. This prejudice and discrimination adds an additional layer of risk on top of biological, social, environmental and psychological factors which can lead to depression and anxiety.

Research and real life experiences have found that LGBTI people have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, substance abuse, self-harming and suicidal thoughts.

When compared with heterosexual people, homosexual and bisexual people are twice as likely to experience anxiety (31.5 per cent compared with 14.1 per cent) and three times as likely to experience depression and related disorders (19 per cent compared with 6 per cent).

Queer young people

Around 10 per cent of young Australians experience same-sex attraction, most realising this around puberty. They may be more likely to experience bullying at school and/or greater difficulty connecting with others. In an Australian study, 61 per cent of young non-heterosexual people reported experiencing verbal abuse and 18 per cent reported physical abuse.

Young LGBTI people with a history of verbal, sexual and/or physical victimisation and abuse have higher levels of social and mental health problems than heterosexual young people – including sexual risk-taking, dangerous use of alcohol and drugs, dropping out of school, homelessness, self-harm and attempted suicide.

Lesbians and other women attracted to women

In some studies, lesbian and other homosexually active women reported higher rates of depression than heterosexual women.

Lesbians are more likely to experience episodes of intense anxiety. A study in the US found that non-heterosexual women were more than three times as likely to have generalised anxiety disorder than heterosexual women. Younger and older lesbians appear to be at a higher risk of depression than mid-aged lesbians.

Gay men and other men attracted to men

Gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to be diagnosed with major depression or panic disorder, especially those experiencing social withdrawal, isolation and socioeconomic hardship. Younger gay and homosexually active men seem to be at higher risk for depression than older gay men. Many gay men living with HIV have lost relationships, social support networks, careers, earning capacity and a sense of future. These multiple losses make them more likely to develop depression and may also compound symptoms. More than 50 per cent of people living with HIV in Australia report having depression or anxiety.

Bisexual people

Studies of bisexual people consistently show that they have even higher rates of depression or depressive symptoms than homosexual people.

Trans communities

The prevalence of depression and anxiety amongst the trans communities is higher than for other lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

In an Australian survey of LGBTI people, around 60 per cent of transgender males and 50 per cent of transgender females reported having depression. A 2007 survey of Australian and New Zealand transgender people found that almost 90 per cent had experienced at least one form of stigma or discrimination, including verbal abuse, social exclusion, receiving lesser treatment due to their name or sex on documents, physical threats and violence. Almost two thirds of participants reported modifying their activities due to fear of stigma or discrimination. People experiencing a greater number of different types of discrimination were more likely to report being currently depressed.

beyondblue funded Australia’s first Trans Mental Health Study, which found that trans people experience very high levels of depression and anxiety.

Intersex people

There are few studies of mental health in intersex people. Sources of psychological stress include confusion about sexual identity and gender roles, and treatment issues such as surgery at a young age, surgery without informed consent, and lack of disclosure from parents and health carers. A survey of LGBTI Australians found that around 60 per cent of intersex people reported having depression and about 70 per cent of intersex males and 85 per cent of intersex females had seen a counsellor or psychiatrist during the previous five years.

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The content in this section was developed by beyondblue and reproduced with permission.