Young LGBQ adults experience more psychological distress than older LGBQ people

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A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds younger LGBQ adults are physically healthier but have worse psychological distress than older LGBQ people.

Researchers examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25), middle (34-41), and older (52-59)—to assess how physical and mental health indicators differed among the three generations. Researchers compared several indicators, including alcohol and drug abuse, general and physical health, mental health and psychological distress, and positive well-being.

The oldest LGBQ group reported fewer days of poor mental health than the youngest cohort; the middle cohort did not differ from either group. Psychological distress was higher for younger age groups, with the youngest age group showing the most psychological distress.

Results showed no differences among the age groups in substance abuse or social well-being. However, several differences were noted when data were analyzed by sexual minority identity subgroups and gender. Bisexual people reported more drug abuse and less happiness, social well-being, and life satisfaction compared with gay and lesbian people. Nonbinary people reported worse general health, more psychological distress, and less social well-being compared to women.

“We expected that the increase in social acceptance for LGBQ people over the past decade would result in more positive mental health indicators for younger LGBQ people, but the results are mixed. There is some indication of better health among young LGBQ people, including social well-being, but there is also a persistent negative experience of psychological distress in that group,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “Despite social changes, young LGBQ people continue to experience stressful experiences related to their sexual minority status, which, in turn, leads to adverse mental health.”

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS

  • Middle and older LGBQ people did not differ in general health, but each had worse general health compared with younger LGBQ people.
  • Men reported better general health and fewer days of poor physical and mental health compared with women.
  • There were few differences across racial/ethnic groups, however, Black LGBQ adults reported less happiness, less social well-being, and less life satisfaction than White LGBQ people.

“Younger LGBQ people come out early and this may result in greater developmental challenges and stressors at a younger age compared with older generations of LGBQ people,” said lead author, Stephen T. Russell, professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It is also notable that positive well-being was consistent across all groups. More research is needed to understand these indicators of resilience and health.”  

The Generations Study examines the health and well-being of cisgender and nonbinary LGBQ people. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were included in our TransPop Study, which examines the demographics, health, and lived experiences of the first national probability sample of transgender individuals in the U.S.

Contact [email protected] for a copy of the article.

ABOUT THE STUDY
The report, “Distribution and Prevalence of Health in a National Probability Sample of Three Cohorts
of Sexual Minority Adults in the United States,” appears in LGBT Health and is co-authored by Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Allen B. Mallory, Ph.D., Jessica N. Fish, Ph.D., David M. Frost, Ph.D., Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., Marguerita Lightfoot, Ph.D., Andy Lin, Ph.D., Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., and Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D.

Research reported in this report is part of the Generations study, supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health, under award number R01HD078526. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The Generations investigators are Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., (PI, UCLA); David M. Frost, Ph.D., (University College London); Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., (UCSC); Marguerita Lightfoot, Ph.D., (UCSF); Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin) and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., (UCLA) Co-Investigators are listed alphabetically.

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