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Young Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adults Have Worse Mental Health than Older Ones

Young Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adults Have Worse Mental Health than Older Ones

A new study by The University of Texas at Austin and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds younger LGBQ adults are physically healthier but have worse psychological health than older LGBQ people.

Researchers examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25), middle (34-41), and older (52-59)—to assess how physical and mental health differed among the three generations. Researchers compared several indicators, including alcohol and drug abuse, general and physical health, mental health and psychological distress and positive well-being.

Results showed no difference among the groups in substance abuse or positive well-being. However, several differences were noted when data were analyzed by sexual minority subgroups and gender. Bisexual people were more likely to report drug abuse and have less happiness, social well-being, and life satisfaction compared with gay and lesbian people. Nonbinary people reported worse general health, more psychological distress, and less positive well-being compared to women.

"We expected that the increase in social acceptance for LGBT people over the past decade would result in more positive mental health for younger LGBQ people," said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. "But studies, including our own, show that, despite social changes, young LGBQ people continue to experience stressful experiences related to their sexual minority status. Such stress leads to adverse mental health."

The study also found:

  • Middle and older LGBQ people did not differ in general health, but each had worse general health compared with younger LGBQ people.
  • Men reported better general health and fewer days of poor physical and mental health compared with women.
  • There were few differences across racial/ethnic groups, however, Black LGBQ adults reported less happiness, less social well-being, and less life satisfaction than White LGBQ people.

"While there were surprising differences in mental health among different generations of LGBQ people, it's notable that positive well-being was consistent across all groups. This could indicate that younger LGBQ people have developed resilience, but more research is needed," said lead author, Stephen T. Russell, professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Generations Study examines the health and well-being of cisgender and nonbinary LGBQ people. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were included in the TransPop Study, which examines the demographics, health, and lived experiences of the first national probability sample of transgender individuals in the U.S.