CHICAGO - One-third of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have
attempted suicide in their lifetime -- a prevalence comparable to
urban, minority youth -- but a majority do not experience mental
illness, according to a report by researchers at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.
The study, published online and in the December issue of the American
Journal of Public Health, is the first to report the frequency of
mental disorders in LGBT youth using the criteria of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
Previous studies have relied on questionnaire-type surveys which, the
authors suggest, may overestimate mental disorders in certain groups.
The UIC researchers recruited 246 ethnically diverse 16- to 20-year-old
LGBT youth in Chicago and conducted structured psychiatric interviews
to assess major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide
attempts, and conduct disorder.
While a third of participants did meet criteria for at least one of the
mental health disorders, about 70 percent of LGBT youth did not meet
criteria for any mental disorders.
"One of the most important findings from our work is that most of these
youth are doing very well and are not experiencing mental health
problems," said Dr. Brian Mustanski, assistant professor of psychiatry
at UIC and lead author of the study.
Nearly 10 percent of study participants met criteria for post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and about 15 percent met criteria for major
depression. A third had made a suicide attempt at some point in their
life, and about 6 percent had made a suicide attempt in the last year.
"The big question is, are these youth more likely to have mental
disorders relative to other kids?," said Mustanski, a clinical
psychologist and director of UIC's IMPACT Program. "And the answer to
that is that it really depends on who you're comparing them to."
LGBT youths in the study had a higher prevalence of mental disorders
than youths in national samples, but were similar to other samples of
urban, racial and ethnic minority youths.
The researchers also looked at differences between sub-groups of LGBT
youth to determine if bisexual youth tend to have more mental health
problems than gay and lesbian youth, or if racial-minority youth
experience more mental health problems than white youth.
Contrary to previous research that suggested that bisexual youth are
more likely to have mental disorders than other groups, Mustanski found
just the opposite. Bisexual youths had a lower prevalence of mental
disorders compared with others in the study.
The study was supported by a grant from the American Foundation for
Suicide Prevention. Co-authors are Dr. Robert Garafalo of Children's
Memorial Hospital and the Howard Brown Health Center and Erin Emerson
IMPACT, a program of the Institute for Juvenile Research at UIC,
conducts LGTB research to identify health issues, understand factors
that put people at risk or protect them, and develop programs that
advance the health of LGBT people and communities.
UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is
Chicago's largest university with 27,000 students, 12,000 faculty and
staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A
hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which
UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate,
foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve
the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.