A large study at the University of Pittsburgh (USA) has found that gay teens are more likely to have a history of suicidality (eg suicidal feelings, suicidal plans, suicidal attempts) and depression than are heterosexual teens. The figures are shown below :
Gay teens with history of suicidality – 28%
Heterosexual teens with a history of suicidality – 12%
Furthermore, gay teens are significantly more likely to have sought out professional help for depression than are their heterosexual peers.
What are the reasons for these findings?
More research needs to be conducted in order for us to fully understand why these differences have arisen. Nevertheless, at present, there exist two main hypotheses : the first is called 1) MINORITY STRESS THEORY and the second is called, simply, 2)THE SECONDARY HYPOTHESIS.
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
1) MINORITY STRESS THEORY – this theory suggests that gay teens are more likely to suffer bullying, discrimination, victimization, aggression and violence which in turn leads to higher rates of depression and suicidal feelings/behaviour
2) THE SECONDARY HYPOTHESIS – this hypthesis proposes that gay teens are more likely to suffer rejection, ostracization and marginalization from mainstream social/peer groups leading them to join fringe social groups in which a culture of resentment and rebelliousness may predominate and whose members are prone to self-destructive behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol and drugs, both of which can potentially adversely affect mental health (CLICK HERE to read my article about the link between childhood trauma and alcoholism).
What about heterosexual teens who are perceived/believed to be gay by their peers?
Heterosexual teens who are perceived/believed to be gay by their peers have been found to suffer a similar level of mental health problems as actual gay teens. This is thought to be because they, too, suffer teasing, bullying, discrimination, ostracization, rejection and marginalization.
How can gay teens be helped to develop resilience to protect their mental health?
More research needs to be conducted on how to make gay teens resilient to the bad treatment they receive from others. Nevertheless, it has already been found that gay teens who have a strong, positive relationships with their parents are protected from the adverse psychological effects of their by treatment at the hands of homophobes.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)