Recent studies show consistent data regarding the topics of discrimination, substance abuse, and mental health concerns in the homosexual community, all showing increased potential risk for the three topics, which also are commonly intertwined and may be contributing to one of the other issues.
Both studies show results that conclude the homosexual community is at higher risk for discrimination. There is really no argument that the discrimination exists, however there are debates over whether certain subcultures within the group are at higher risk then other members of this community. Most studies agree that there are several contributing factors to discrimination, including cultural, religious, and social norms and values.
Many factors that may be deeply embedded in cultural, religious, and social norms. While these two studies reflect the attitudes and behaviors in the United States, it would be interesting to investigate and compare the difference between the United States and Canada, who differ on some of the legislation of gay marriage and benefits, and to other cultures who have stricter policies than America. In the United States, there are currently widely held debates over such issues as gay marriage and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” topics, which may reflect the vast majority of Americans being of Christian denomination that perceives homosexuality as a sin. Many laws may also contribute, banning of same sex marriage, obstacles in adoption issues, and barriers to obtain benefits may support seeing this behavior as unacceptable and may lead to acts of discrimination. While cultural and religious values may be more difficult to change because of their historical significance, social norms and attitudes may be less concrete.
While the research is interesting, several factors need to be considered when measuring the differences between the two subcultures, for instance, family and friend support systems and resilience. Another problem is that many of studies have differing definitions of discrimination, objectivity will need to be implemented.
The studies both show increased potential risk of substance abuse in the gay community, however there does seem to be some gender differences that should be more closely examined. Substance abuse can impact and be impacted by both discrimination, including social stigma, and mental health issues, such as using it to self-medicate for feelings of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms.
Biological aspects are less convincing in the gay community, as a certain percentage of the population is at equal risk for potential abuse of substances. Social consequences, being disowned by others may lead individuals to begin to “associate with the wrong crowd” which may introduce substances. The gay lifestyle, much like their heterosexual counterparts, meet potential partners in the same places, bars, clubs, parties, all which may encourage the use of substances, such as alcohol. For individuals who have been victimized, suffer from depression, anxiety, or stress related to their sexual preference, substances may be a way of avoiding self-medicating and avoiding social stigma.
A large portion of research indicates that support systems, family and friends, hinders abuse, however many in the community who have strong support systems still fall prey to addiction. More studies would need to be conducted to identify other differences. Social norms, the inability to marry may encourage that individuals promiscuity, the public encouragement to stay single, likely translates to more time spent in bars, clubs, and social events where drugs are easily accessible. The gay community also may have expectations to keep up an active social life and place increased stress on body appearance and image, that may lead individuals to begin using substances.
The studies all indicate higher potential risk of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, suicidal idealogy, and PTSD. Mental health can be influenced by discrimination and substance abuse, and may even be worsened by these factors.
Biological influences on mental disorders have been well established throughout psychological literature and research, however, alone biological dispositions can’t account for the increased numbers of the gay community that suffer from one or more mental health issues. Social isolation, discrimination, particularly events of physical injury, such as hate crimes, and prolonged exposure to discriminatory attitudes and beliefs may create self-fulfilling prophecies that contribute to anxiety and depression. Substance abuse, may also worsen mental health issues depending on what substances are being abused, alcohol for instance, is known to be a depressant.
The big debate on the issue of mental health concerns in the gay community is not whether increased risk exists or that there are several contributing factors to these disorders. The debate, however, comes on how to address these issues, how do we reduce the risk of individuals in the gay community to these disorders. There will likely never be full acceptance of the gay community, at least in the near future, because of the cultural and religious aspects, but amending laws, such as hate crime legislation, can create awareness of the severity of such violent acts that gay community faces. Media has played a significant role in creating this awareness through music, movies (such as MILK, Brokeback Mountain, and Chuck and Larry), television programs (such as Will and Grace, Ellen, and Queer as Folk), and news reports (such as the Matthew Shepherd murder) have help dismiss social norms that contribute to mental health issues by disproving many stereotypes, however, in some incidences, the media may actually make stereotypes stronger.
Several factors contribute to the higher risk of discrimination, substance abuse, and mental health, and the three may be contributing to one another, or being causing each other. Further research needs to be conducted to validate results, and create reliability of the data. Many research currently addresses only one or two of these issues, and much of the research had acquired the information using different methods. Replication of the studies would be advantageous. The research does suggest that counselors, case managers, and therapists should all be aware of the potential contributing factors that may be influencing these issues, so that optimal treatment can be devised.
The Homosexual Community Discrimination, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health
Discrimination Studies Study #1 Results: “More than two thirds of LGB adults reported at least 1 type of discrimination in their lifetimes” (McCabe et al. 2010). Study #2 Results: Homosexuals, compared to heterosexuals, more likely to report lifetime sexual victimization (Conronet.al, 2010).
Contributing Factors Cultural Beliefs and Values In some cultures, homosexual behaviors and actions may be punishable by death Religious Tenets and Values Homosexuality, to some, contradicts strongly embedded religious beliefs The vast majority of the United States is founded on Christian beliefs, where homosexuality is considered a sin Social Norms and Attitudes Laws, such as recent legislative debates over banning same sex marriage may encourage discriminatory attitudes Media attention may be influencing these attitudes, both negatively and positively, by cementing stereotypes or creating awareness and exposure
The Big Debate Some research reports suggest that certain individuals, particularly feminine gays and masculine lesbians, may be at even higher risk than others in the gay community One possible explanation may be the easier identification of these individuals by others More research is necessary to show reliability of these findings
Substance Abuse Studies Study #1 Results: “lesbians and bisexual women demonstrated a 3-fold increased likelihood of substance use disorders” (Bolton etal. 2011). Study #2 Results: Homosexuals, compared to heterosexuals, more likely to report smoking, and drug use (Conron et al, 2010).
Contributing Factors Biological Individuals may have predisposition to substances, although this may not account for large differences in data compared to the population Social Implications Early exposure to drugs in the family environment, peer pressure, or social isolation Stress and Mental Health disorders Many may self-medicate or use as a coping tool
The Big Debates Support of family and friends There is some research that having strong support systems reduces potential risk of substance abuse The impact of social norms Whether social norms, such as laws and lifestyles, enable the community to fall victim to substance abuse
Mental Health Studies Study #1 Results: “One third of participants met criteria for any mental disorder, 17% for conduct disorder, 15% for major depression, and 9% for posttraumatic stress disorder” (Mustanskiet.al, 2010). Study #2 Results: “gay and bisexual men showed twice the rate of anxiety disorders and schizophrenia and (or) psychotic illness, even after accounting for mental disorder comorbidity. Suicide attempts were independently associated with bisexuality, with odds 3 times higher than in heterosexuals” (Bolton et.al, 2011) Study #3 Results: Homosexuals compared to heterosexuals, more likely to report anxiety and worry, bisexuals with higher reports of suicidal ideology and sadness (Conron et. al, 2010).
Contributing Factors Biological Influence Much like substance abuse, individuals may have increased risk due to genetics, however, this does not account for the large differences between the hetero- and homosexual populations. Social/Psychological Factors Social isolation and victimization can contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, and PTSD diagnoses
The Big Debate Social acceptance Social acceptance of the gay community may reduce feelings of anxiety, acts of discrimination, thus reducing feelings of paranoia and sadness Social programs Creating social programs that are available in the community for these individuals, providing support systems, and education may reduce stigma and earlier treatment of disorders
Conclusion The gay community is at high risk for enduring acts of discrimination, falling victim to substance abuse, and suffering from a mental disorder. Whether these topics are correlated or show causation differs from individual to individual, and may be impacted by a number of contributing factors. Research needs to continue to learn about potential options to reduce these situations and to investigate the impact they may have on one another. From a psychological standpoint, individuals working with the gay community should be aware of the various aspects that the community may be confronted with.
References Bolton, S., and Sareen, J. (Jan 2011). Sexual Orientation and Its Relation to Mental Disorders and Suicide Attempts. Findings From a Nationally Represented Sample. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 56 Issue 1, p35-43; 9pConran, K., Mimiaga, M., and Landers, S. (Oct 2010). A Population Based Study of Sexual Orientation Identity and Gender Differences in Adult Health. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 100 Issue 10, p1953-1960; 8pMcCabe, S., Bostwick, W., Hughes, T., West, B., and Boyd, C. (Oct 2010). The Relationship Between Discrimination and Substance Abuse Disorders Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 100 Issue 10, p1946-1952; 7p Mustanski, S., Garofalo, R., and Emerson, E. (2010). Mental Health Disorders, Psychological Distress, and Suicidality in a Diverse Sample of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youths. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 100 Issue 12, p2426-2432; 7p