Those most affected appear to be males with a predominantly homosexual orientation, who have mental health problems five times higher than young heterosexual males. Homosexual females have mental health problems nearly twice those of exclusively heterosexual females.
“Our findings clearly support the view that young people of gay, lesbian and bisexual orientation are at increased risk of mental health problems and suicidal behaviours,” says Professor David Fergusson. “ Gay males appear to be at greater risk, but both lesbian and bisexual young people also have higher rates of these problems than young people of exclusively heterosexual orientation.”
Other findings from this study suggest that 1 in 6 cohort members have experienced some degree of same sex attraction, or consensual sexual contact, by 25 years of age. However only 3% were predominantly homosexual, while 10% reported being predominantly heterosexual, but admitted some same sex attraction or experience.
Despite these New Zealand findings, which reflect concerns in the gay community internationally, Professor Fergusson says the background reasons for this increased risk remain to be established.
“While it seems likely that factors such as social discrimination and homophobia may play a role in mental health problems with this group, there may also be other social and life-style factors that place gay, lesbian and bisexual young people at great risk of mental health problems and suicidal behaviours.”
Professor Fergusson adds that the important message emerging from this research is that those planning mental health services, and those providing them, need to recognise that concerns about mental health risk for gay, lesbian and bisexual young people are now well founded in a growing body of research evidence.
The Christchurch Health and Development Study has been supported by research grants from the Health Research Council, the National Child Health Research Foundation, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the Lottery Grants Board.