Young people who identify as sexual minorities—including lesbians, gays, and queers—are more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, a study has found.
Researchers from University College London in the UK showed that adolescents who identify as sexual minorities—including those who are not sure of their sexual orientation—experience more symptoms of depression.
They also report more self-harm than heterosexual youths throughout their school years and into early adulthood, according to the study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
The findings suggest that sexual minority youth and are four times more likely to report recent self-harm at ages 16 and 21 years than their heterosexual peers, and are at higher risk of depressive symptoms from as young as 10 years old.
"It is very concerning that despite changes in public perceptions and attitudes, sexual-minority youth remain at increased risk of long-term mental health problems," said Gemma Lewis from University College London in the UK, who led the research.
"Our findings underscore the importance of mental health problems before conscious self-identification and labelling of sexual-minority orientation," said Lewis.
"It is imperative that we find new ways to reach these adolescents and that they are able to access high-quality support services from a young age," she said.
Previous studies have consistently shown that young people who identify as sexual minorities are more likely than their heterosexual peers to become depressed, self-harm, and attempt suicide.
However, little research has looked at when increased risk for these mental-health problems emerges and how it develops over time.
In this study, researchers analysed data on 4,843 adolescents born between April 1991 and December 1992.
As many as 4,203 participants identified as heterosexual, and 13 per cent as sexual minorities. Just over half of participants, 53 per cent, were female.
Depressive symptoms were assessed seven times between the ages of 10 and 21 years using a questionnaire. Additionally, a self-harm questionnaire was completed at ages 16 and 21 years.
Modelling was used to compare depressive symptoms and self-harm in sexual minority youth and heterosexual youth from early adolescence through to young adulthood after adjusting for other factors such as sex, age, maternal education, and social class.
Depressive symptoms were more common among sexual minority youth than heterosexual youth at age 10, developed faster during adolescence, and continued into young adulthood.
From age 18, depressive symptoms started to decline, and more so in sexual minority youth.
Researchers suggest that this decline could be the result of social and psychological changes such as increased independence or changes in peer groups.
Results also showed that sexual minorities were four times more likely to report self-harm in the previous year at both aged 16 and 21 years.
Moreover, sexual minority youth were more than four times as likely to report previous self-harm with suicidal intent at age 21 than their heterosexual peers.
Previous research found that annually between 2001 and 2014, on average across 10- to 19-year-olds in the UK, around 37 per 10,000 girls and 12 per 10,000 boys were treated for self-harm.
"The lack of sexual-minority role models and unquestioning acceptance of rigid concepts of gendered behaviour should be challenged in schools and society at large," Lewis said.
"We also need to ensure that doctors and those working in mental health are aware of this inequality and recognise the needs of sexual minorities," he said.