Professor Michael King from the Division of Psychiatry at University College London Spoke about LGBT mental health.
A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here. Please note that the talk given at this conference only covered the first part of this pdf material.
If we are to discuss the mental health of people who are LGB or trans then we need some idea of who they are, but this is not easy. Survey questions have been designed in various ways and get different answers according to the design of the questions. There is also a difference between sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience and this makes it problematic to identify whose mental health we are talking about. One thing is clear and that is that in the younger generations the proportion of people who would describe themselves are not 100% heterosexual is increasing. The proportion of people who describe themselves as bisexual increases for younger people. What is also increasing is the acceptance for self-identification for trans people.
In terms of mental health, it is clear that bisexuals are at higher risk of mental health problems than those who are lesbian or gay. Those who are LGB are 6 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance misuse, self-harm and suicide. There is less research on trans mental health, but they are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience mental disorder and self-harm. There is no difference in the rates for MTF and FTM.
Longitudinal studies have been carried out on young people. Those who identify as non-heterosexual experience more depression by the age of 10 and are more likely to self-harm at age 16 – 21 than heterosexual peers. For LBG people of all ages, their reported physical health is worse than for heterosexuals. This may be linked to their experience of healthcare. Sexual minority patients reported negative healthcare experiences 1.5 times more often that others. There is less research on transgender health experiences, but the pattern is similar.
There may be several underlying causes for the more negative social experiences. These may include experiences of gender non-conformity, which can lead to increased bullying at school. They may experience egodystonic sexual orientation, which means that you don’t like your sexual orientation. This also leads to people experiencing conversion therapy, in which efforts are made to change their unwanted sexual orientation, even though that cannot be changed.
There is little evidence for trans people being subjected to the same sort of conversion therapy, (although being forced to stay in their natal gender would be the equivalent.) Two memoranda of understandings on conversion therapy have been released and General Synod agreed a motion condemning the practice.
Although social attitudes towards LGBT people have improved, the stresses still exist. Some of these are related to the average age of coming out getting lower. In the 1970s the mean coming out age was 20, in 2000 it was 14. This means that parental reaction is crucial. Many young people do not feel that they are able to tell their parents, leading to little or no parental support.
The vast majority of LGBT people do not have mental health problems, but they do experience increased discrimination and have to make lifestyle choices on a daily basis that heterosexual peers do not have to make.
Coming next Prof Peter Hegerty on Intersex People and Dr James Barrett on Trans People.