LGBT Mental Health

Irish and international research has demostrated that stress experienced for being LGBT - called minority stress - has real and negative effects on the mental health and well being of LGBT people and is strongly linked with increased risk of suicidal behaviour.

Minority Stress

The Supporting LGBT Lives study is the most comprehensive research to date on the mental health and well being of LGBT Irish people. A key finding was that experiencing homophobia, transphobia, prejudice, victimisation and fear of being open about one's identity causes psychological distress for LGBT people. This stress experienced for being LGBT - called minority stress - impacts on people's mental health and increases the risk of suicidal behaviour, particularly among younger LGBT people. The study examined different aspects of minority stress including: LGBT victimisation, coming out, experiences at school and workplace experiences.

'LGBT Victimisation'

  • 80% had been verbally abused because they were LGBT
  • 40% had been threatened with physical violence
  • 25% had been punched, kicked or beaten because of their LGBT identity
  • 9% had been sexually attacked on at least one occasion because they were LGBT

'Experiences at School'

  • 58% reported homophobic bullying in their schools
  • 53% had been called abusive names related to their LGBT identity by fellow students
  • 40% had been verbally threatened and 25% physically threatened by school peers because they were LGBT
  • 34% reported homophobic comments by teachers
  • 20% missed or skipped school because they felt threatened or were afraid of getting hurt at school because they were LGBT
  • 8% were called homophobic names by teachers
  • 5% left school early because of homophobic bullying

'Workplace Experiences'

  • 25% of those who had ever worked had been called abusive names at work because they were LGBT
  • 15% had been verbally threatened and 17% physically threatened by work colleagues
  • 10% missed work because they were afraid of being hurt or felt threatened because of their LGBT identity

‘Coming Out'

  • 12 years of age = the most common age to realise one's LGBT identity
  • 17 years of age = the most common age to first disclose one's LGBT identity to anyone
  • 5 years = the most common number of years that young LGBT people conceal their identity from others. This 5 year period coincides with puberty, school and a critical period of social, emotion and vocational development
  • For LGBT people of all ages, the period prior to coming out was particularly stressful because of fear of rejection (from parents in particular) and because of isolation
  • The majority came out to a friend or another trusted individual before coming out to their family. Friends and family, but parents in particular, have a crucial role to play in supporting LGBT people as they come out and this support can act as a protective buffer against specific stresses LGBT young people may encounter such as homophobic bullying in school.

These findings demonstrate the real and very significant stresses that Irish LGBT people encounter and have to negotiate in their day to day lives at home, in school, in work and in their local communities. The inevitable impact of minority stress on mental health is described below.

The Impact of Minority Stress on LGBT Mental Health

'LGBT Mental Health and Suicidality'

  • 27% had self-harmed and 85% of these did so more than once
  • 16 years was the average age of first self-harming
  • 40% of females and 20% of males had self-harmed
  • 18% had attempted suicide and 85% saw their first attempt as related to stresses associated with their LGBT identity (e.g. fear of rejection by family or friends)
  • 17.5 years was the average age of first suicide attempt
  • 24% of females and 15% of males attempted suicide at least once
  • Over a third of those aged 25 years and under had thought seriously about ending their lives within the past year and over 50% had done so at some time
  • The 3 most common LGBT-specific stresses identified were: fear of rejection when considering coming out; negative school experiences; and experiences of harassment and victimisation.

'Mental Health Resilience'

  • While minority stress exposes a significant percentage of LGBT people to suicidality, given adequate support most LGBT people develop resilience to the stresses they encounter and live happy and satisfying lives.
  • 81% of participants are now comfortable with their LGBT identity, and the majority have good self-esteem and are satisfied with their lives.
  • Over 2/3 have come out to all their immediate family and their friends. 
  • Support of family (parents in particular) and friends as well as positive experiences in communities, schools or workplaces are critical for LGBT people's well-being and good mental health
  • Mental health resilience (i.e. the ability to cope with minority stress) was related to: acceptance and support from family and friends; a positive turnabout or life event such as the transition out of secondary school; support from LGBT community organisations and services; developing positive coping strategies and good self-esteem; and positive school or work experiences

To read about GLEN's work on Mental Health click here

If you are an LGBT person looking for support click here

If you are a professional looking for resources click here