Prevalence of and interventions for mental health and alcohol and other drug problems amongst the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community: a review of the literature

15 February 2013

This report summarises a vast literature in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and both mental health and alcohol and other drug problems. Overall, the team located more than 500 published papers.

The report focuses on two aspects:
  1. The prevalence of mental health (MH) disorders, and alcohol and other drug problems (AOD) among GLBT populations; and
  2. Evidence regarding the effectiveness of interventions to redress MH and AOD problems amongst GLBT groups.
Key findings in relation to prevalence of mental health disorders amongst GLBT
  • A majority of international and Australian studies have found that GLBT populations suffer from mental health disorders at a significantly higher rate than the heterosexual population. This finding occurs across both genders, and in both youth and adult populations.
  • In terms of anxiety disorders, the international literature (n=12 studies with a non-GLBT comparison group) demonstrates that GLBT people are more than twice as likely to have anxiety disorders. The majority of these studies find significantly higher rates in lesbian/bisexual women (with somewhat less strong findings for males). Australian studies provide less strong evidence, especially for lesbian and bisexual women, where anxiety disorders may be less common than in heterosexual groups.
  • In terms of depression and mood disorders, 14 of the 18 international studies examined here demonstrated higher rates amongst GLBT populations than heterosexual populations. This applied to both gay or bisexual men and lesbian or bisexual women, although the highest rates of depression were found for lesbian/bisexual women. Australian research confirms significantly higher rates of major depressive disorder in GLBT compared with non GLBT populations.
  • The evidence regarding suicidality examined here provides perhaps the clearest indication of increased risk amongst GLBT individuals. 25 of 28 international studies found a significantly higher prevalence of past suicide attempts among a GLBT population. Australian data on suicidality confirms that GLBT groups have elevated rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts relative to heterosexual groups.

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