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Research Review

One Third of LGBT Youths Suffer Mental Disorders

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 in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first to report the frequency of mental disorders in LGBT youths using the criteria of the DSM-IV. Previous studies have relied on questionnaire-type surveys which, the authors suggest, may overestimate mental disorders in certain groups.

The researchers recruited 246 ethnically diverse 16- to 20-year-old LGBT youths in Chicago and conducted structured psychiatric interviews to assess major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide attempts, and conduct disorder.

While one third of participants did meet criteria for at least one of the mental health disorders, about 70% 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 youths are doing very well and are not experiencing mental health problems," says Brian Mustanski, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university and lead study author.

Nearly 10% of study participants met criteria for PTSD and about 15% met criteria for major depression. One third had made a suicide attempt at some point in their life, and about 6% had made a suicide attempt in the last year.

"The big question is, are these youths more likely to have mental disorders relative to other kids?" asks Mustanski. "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 subgroups of LGBT youth to determine if bisexual youths tend to have more mental health problems than gay and lesbian youths, or if racial-minority youths experience more mental health problems than white youths.

Contrary to previous research that suggested that bisexual youths 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.

— Source: University of Illinois at Chicago