by Bob Roehr
Gays and lesbians are twice as likely as heterosexuals to seek help for emotional, mental health, or substance abuse issues, according to a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles. It was published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry.
“We’ve known for some time that lesbians, gay men and bisexual individuals make use of mental health services at rates that are higher than one would predict, but we didn’t have good data sets to take a look at it,” said Susan D. Cochran, PhD, the senior author of the study.
Her work drew from the very large 2003 California Health Interview Survey of 42,000 participants. It reinterviewed a portion of that group over five months in late 2004 and early 2005, disproportionately contacting people who said they were GLB so that the sample was large enough to have statistical power.
The sample totaled 2,074 adults 18-65 who completed the interview. Among females, 816 identified as heterosexual and 255 identified as lesbian or bisexual; 709 males identified as heterosexual while 294 identified as gay or bisexual.
The group was 55.6 percent white, 29.8 percent Hispanic, 5.9 percent African American, 7.8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent Native American. It reflects the population diversity of California.
Overall, 22.5 percent of heterosexuals but 48.5 percent of GLBs reported receiving treatment for a mental health or substance abuse issue within the past year. Females of all orientations were more likely than males (33.8 percent vs. 24.5 percent) to receive those services; reflecting the fact that women are more likely than men to seek health services on all issues.
Of those seeking care, only 2 percent received it through an in-patient program; 68 percent received a prescription drug as part of that care.
The difference between gay and straight was greatest among men: 42.5 percent of gay and bisexual men sought help compared with 17.1 percent of heterosexual males. For females it was 55.3 percent for lesbians and bisexual women and 27.1 percent heterosexual.
Other studies have shown that bisexuals are more likely than others to experience mental health issue,s but this study did not contain a large enough group of bisexuals to conduct a meaningful analysis.
The study showed no significant differences between the groups based on employment, insurance coverage, education, level of social support, or marital/partner status.
“We don’t know why the rate of use is higher (among GLBs), even after adjusting for the prevalence of disorders,” Cochran said, notinc that one possibility is that society’s view of homosexuality “conditions people to think that when they run into problems, mental health services are appropriate.”
“It may also be that they are using care to deal with some of the stresses in life from being gay, such as problems in dealing with their biological family.”
Another possibility is that gays use professional services that heterosexuals may be able to work out through conversations with family members or clergymen.
Cochran said, “If people are using mental health services because of (homophobia), that is a cost not just to the individual, it is also a cost of discrimination to society.”
She believes the findings from this study should be largely applicable across the United States.
Cochran said they are now trying to evaluate the second step of the process, whether the care that people received was adequate to the problem.