A new UK-based study, led by Ms Madeleine Irish, King’s College London, provides new and important insights into the mental health problems experienced by sexual-minority youth, says the Centre for Adolescent Health’s Dr Rohan Borschmann and Dr Jennifer Marino.
While many studies have shown that sexual-minority youth have poorer mental health than their heterosexual peers, Dr Borschmann and Dr Marino state that many of these findings have little clinical utility without longitudinal data to track changes over time.
The new prospective cohort study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and found that depressive symptoms were higher in sexual minorities than heterosexuals by age 10, with this difference increasing until participants were 21 years old. The study also reported that sexual-minorities were four times more likely to report recent self-harm at ages 16 years and 21 years, with 21 year olds also four times more likely to self-harm with suicidal intent.
Dr Borschmann and Dr Marino who wrote an accompanying commentary to the article, said that the study’s “findings highlight the urgent need for policy makers, public health researchers, health-care professionals, and educators to join forces to address the underlying causes of this inequity and reduce the burden of disease on vulnerable young people.”
Dr Borschmann and Dr Marino also noted that sexual-minority young people are prone to double stigmatisation, which has been widely linked with poorer health outcomes. They suggest that reducing stigma and discrimination could thus provide a pathway to primary prevention of mental disorders, by reducing the burden of disease, improving public health, and reducing health inequities.
“Programmes to prevent suicide and self-harm are often applied either to the general population—most of whom is not at risk—or to those who have already self-harmed or attempted suicide”, said Dr Borschmann and Dr Marino, adding that “tailoring self-harm prevention programmes to sexual-minority young people presents an alternative prevention strategy that warrants further attention.”
Dr Borschmann and Dr Marino also stressed that “remarkable knowledge gaps and methodological challenges for researchers, clinicians, and advocates remain.”
Dr Borschmann’s and Dr Marino’s commentary, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, can be read here (with institutional or private access).
Ms Irish’s article, also published in The Lancet, can be access here (with institutional or private access).