A first of its kind NHS study has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults are more than twice as likely to report having longstanding mental health problems than their heterosexual counterparts.
The ‘Health Survey for England’(HSE) presented findings on a series of health outcomes and health-related behaviours of adults between 2011-18, of which 2.7% identified as LGB. The HSE does not include a question about gender identity; therefore, the study did not present findings on trans and non-binary adults’ health outcomes.
While the prevalence of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes were similar between heterosexual and LGB cohorts, there was substantial divergence in rates of mental health conditions and wellbeing scores.
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Higher prevalence of unhealthy behaviours
Health risk behaviours potentially linked to mental health difficulties such as high alcohol consumption and smoking were also substantially higher than average. The proportion of LGB people who drank weekly to a level of elevated health risk was 32% compared to 24% of heterosexual adults.
In addition, the proportion of adults to drank over than the daily recommendation of under four units on any day in the last week was between 34% and 45% compared to between 31% and 33% of heterosexual adults.
LGB adults were also more likely to be current smokers, 27% compared to 18% of the wider population. And this was significantly higher when broken down by gender; lesbian and bisexual women who were current smokers was found to be 31% compared to 16%.
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Disparities in long-term mental health outcomes
Overall, the prevalence of longstanding physical and mental health conditions was higher in LGB adults, 45% compared with 40%. And the frequency of mental health conditions was more than double, 16% of LGB adults compared with 6% of heterosexual adults.
Similarly, the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS) results were lower for LGB populations scoring on average 48.9 compared to 51.5. The WEMWBS scores were lower for lesbian and bisexual women, 47.3 to the score of 51.3 for heterosexual women, and gay and bisexual men 50.2 to the score of 51.5 for their equivalent.
This piece of research builds on existing evidence showing that health outcomes are worse for LGBTQI+ people. The LGBT Foundation previously published a report demonstrating that health inequalities are persistent throughout LGBTQI+ people’s lives.
The LGBT Foundation found that one in six people from these communities drinks almost every day compared to one in ten heterosexual adults, and 52% reported symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to 20% of the wider population.
The findings of the LGBT Foundation and the NHS study emphasising the need for community outreach and sexual orientation monitoring regarding health disparities across the NHS and secondary mental health services.