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Shift to LGB Identity in Early Adulthood Tied to Depressive Symptoms

People whose sexual identities changed toward same-sex attraction in early adulthood reported more symptoms of depression in a nationwide survey than those whose sexual orientations did not change or changed in the opposite direction, according to a study by a University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist.

"Sexual Orientation Identity Change and Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Analysis," published in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who initially identified as heterosexual or who had not reported same-sex romantic attraction or relationships were more likely to experience depressive symptoms than others.

Individuals who reported stable sexual identities throughout the survey period – whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual – had no change in depressive symptoms over time. Similarly, individuals who reported identities that were less same-sex-oriented did not experience increases in depression.

The findings suggest that a sexual identity change toward same-sex attraction may continue to be a stressful life event despite American society's increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, says study author Bethany Everett.

"This study highlights the need for social support during periods of sexual identity transition toward same-sex attraction, not only for adolescents, but also for young adults," says Everett, who is an assistant professor of sociology at UIC. "Supporting people during this time period may be critical for improving their mental health."

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, also known as Add Health, Everett's study included more than 11,200 respondents who were interviewed in both the third (2001-2002) and fourth (2008-2009) waves of the survey about topics including their depressive symptoms. Respondents' ages ranged from 18 to 26 in wave three, and 25 to 33 in wave four.

Everett says future research should continue to investigate the factors that contribute to the link between sexual identity change and symptoms of depression.

"It may be that changes to bisexual, gay, or lesbian identities expose young adults to new sources of LGBT-related discrimination," she adds. "Additionally, there is a certain amount of stigma attached to sexual fluidity itself that may impact mental health during this developmental period."

--Source: University of Illinois at Chicago