There is a crisis in mental health among lesbian gay and bisexual people, who are 1.5 times more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and substance use problems than straight people, and twice as likely to attempt suicide. Early research also points to similar problems among transgender people. These disparities are a major health burden for the LGBT community.
Funding for research into LGBT mental health is woefully inadequate. However, researchers at Kings College London are now trying to reverse this and are studying which factors contribute to these striking mental health disparities.
Liam Timmins, a PhD candidate, along with leading sexuality scientist Qazi Rahman and clinical psychologist Kate Rimes are studying how stigma and discrimination against LGBT people contribute to these mental health disparities.
Psychologists agree that discrimination and stigma “get under the skin” and promote poor mental health in LGBT people. For example, studies have shown that experiences of victimisation may trigger negative thinking styles and poor coping strategies which might be associated with high levels of psychological distress. However, no one has systematically studied how this happens, through which mechanisms, and how this works in the different groups (e.g., lesbian gay and bisexual men and women compared to transgender men and women).
One of the key aims of this new research is to address the sexual and gender diversity within the LGBT population which has never been done before.
LGBT people also face unique forms of distress that are different to those faced by many other minorities. For example, LGBT people have social identities that are not always visible and so the researchers want to know if having a concealable identity impacts on mental health. This means that stigma and discrimination may cause LGBT people (particular those at critical stages in life like adolescence and young adulthood) to attempt to hide their identities and thus trigger anxiety or worry about being “found out”. Or it may separate people from their social identities which damages self-esteem.
Liam is recruiting participants for a large, cross-national online survey on LGBT well-being. His work will the first to compare, contrast, and quantify how the stigma and discrimination contribute to distress and well-being of different members of the LGBT community compared to straight cisgender people.
The knowledge from this research will be used to promote the well-being of LGBT people through improving psychological interventions and informing LGBT-positive social programmes.