Young LGBT people start becoming depressed and self-harming from the age of 10 because they feel different from their heterosexual peers, research has found.
LGBT 16 to 21-year-olds are four times more likely to have felt depressed, harmed themselves and thought about killing themselves, according to a study based on interviews with 4,800 young people from in and around Bristol, a city in Britain.
Experts said the numbers were linked to the bullying, stigma and abuse that some young people experience as a result of their sexuality. The findings are from the first British research into the prevalence of depressive symptoms and self-harm in young people.
Mental health problems become much more common among young LGBT people than heterosexuals of the same age as adolescence progresses.
“It’s deeply concerning that such a high proportion of young LGBQ+ people are struggling with their mental health,” said Tom Madders of the charity YoungMinds. “While the factors behind mental health problems are often complex and multiple, the high figures may relate to bullying, discrimination, feeling like an outsider or worrying about reactions from family or friends.”
Of the 4,828 participants, 625 did not say they were heterosexual, instead describing themselves as homosexual, bisexual, mainly homosexual, mainly heterosexual, unsure or not attracted to either sex. They were all classed as being in a “sexual minority” by the academics from University College London and King’s College London who carried out the research.
“We’ve known for some time that sexual minority youth have worse mental health outcomes, and it’s quite concerning that we’ve found [that] this trend starts as early as 10 years old and worsens throughout adolescence,” said Dr Gemma Lewis, the lead author of the study.
The authors said their results, published on Wednesday in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, should prompt doctors and other health professionals to consider the sexuality of young people whom they try to help over come depression or self-harm. The respondents were young people who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and reported their sexuality at 16.
Depressive symptoms were already more common among young LGBT people at the age of 10 than among their heterosexual peers. That gap widened all the way through to 21, after which it began to close.
“As they progress through adolescence a range of stress factors could be involved, such as discrimination, stigmatisation, feelings of loneliness, social isolation, shame or fear or rejection, including at home or at school,” said Madeleine Irish, another author of the study.
Irish urged ministers to ensure that the new relationship and sex education curriculum encouraged young people to talk about their sexuality and gender and tackle prejudice against those subjects. Schools could be inadvertently making the problem worse by making “sexual minority” students feel isolated by focusing too much on straight relationships, the study suggests.
A government-funded survey of mental health problems among teenagers in England, which was published last month, found a third (34.9 per cent) of 14 to 19 year olds who identified as LGBT had a mental disorder, compared with 13.2 per cent of those who said they were heterosexual.