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Original Article
October 1999

Is Sexual Orientation Related to Mental Health Problems and Suicidality in Young People?

Author Affiliations

From the Christchurch Health and Development Study (Dr Fergusson and Mr Horwood) and the Canterbury Suicide Project (Dr Beautrais), Christchurch School of Medicine, New Zealand.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56(10):876-880. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.56.10.876

Background  This study examines the extent to which gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people are at increased risk of psychiatric disorder and suicidal behaviors using data gathered on a New Zealand birth cohort studied to age 21 years.

Methods  Data were gathered during the course of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 21-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in Christchurch, New Zealand. At 21 years of age, 1007 sample members were questioned about their sexual orientation and relationships with same-sex partners since the age of 16 years. Twenty-eight subjects (2.8%) were classified as being of gay, lesbian, or bisexual sexual orientation. Over the period from age 14 to 21 years, data were gathered on a range of psychiatric disorders that included major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, and substance use disorders. Data were also gathered on suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Results  Gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people were at increased risks of major depression (odds ratio [OR], 4.0; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.8-9.3), generalized anxiety disorder (OR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.2-6.5), conduct disorder (OR, 3.8; 95% CI, 1.7-8.7), nicotine dependence (OR, 5.0; 95% CI, 2.3-10.9), other substance abuse and/or dependence (OR, 1.9; 95% CI, 0.9-4.2), multiple disorders (OR, 5.9; 95% CI, 2.4-14.8), suicidal ideation (OR, 5.4; 95% CI, 2.4-12.2), and suicide attempts (OR, 6.2; 95% CI, 2.7-14.3).

Conclusions  Findings support recent evidence suggesting that gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people are at increased risk of mental health problems, with these associations being particularly evident for measures of suicidal behavior and multiple disorder.