Story at a glance
- Despite legal and social improvements, younger LGBTQ+ members report higher levels of stress.
- New research attributes this to coming out at a younger age.
- Connection with a larger LGBTQ+ community is listed as a key support.
New data published in early March reveals the continuation of a disturbing trend: the disproportionate amount of stress placed on LGBTQ+ youth and the negative health outcomes that follow.
Studying three cohorts of self-professed members of the LGBTQ+ community across three generations, spanning 1956-1997 South African researchers found that despite the improved visibility and representation of homosexuality and other sexual identities, LGBTQ+ individuals still suffer from psychological distress.
This is primarily attributed to LGBTQ+ people coming out at younger ages, placing them at odds with cultural and social pressures while still growing up.
Both violent and internalized homophobia and other societal stigmas are also identified as major stressors, especially among younger members of the observed cohort as opposed to older LGBTQ+ individuals.
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Additionally, 30 percent of study participants in the younger age group reported attempting at least one suicide attempt, a higher figure than the 24 percent and 21 percent reported among the middle-aged and older participants, respectively.
This is higher than the average percentage of individuals between the ages of 18 to 24 who attempt suicide, which researchers document as just four percent.
“We found little evidence that social and legal improvements during the past 50 years in the status of sexual minority people have altered the experiences of sexual minority people in terms of exposure to minority stressors and resultant adverse mental health outcomes,” the authors concluded. “Most tellingly, younger sexual minority people did not have less psychological distress or fewer suicide attempts than older sexual minority people.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long documented the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth as a major public health concern. Data up to 2018 reveals that gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexual minorities reported having “seriously considered” or attempted suicide was higher than their heterosexual peers.
Researchers suggest that mental health in LGBTQ+ people can be improved by connecting with a greater LGBTQ+ community, living among values denouncing homophobia and having role models who have healthy lives as sexual minorities.
“These findings indicate the extent to which changes in the social environment have been limited in their impact on stress processes and mental health for sexual minority people,” the authors conclude. “They call our attention to the continued need to recognize threats to the health and well-being of sexual minority people across all ages and remind us that LGBT equality remains elusive.”
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