A new study has challenged a common perception that homosexual and bisexual people are inherently at risk of poor mental health and suicide.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr Richard Burns from the Australian National University, said that homosexual or bisexual orientation is in itself not a major risk for long-term mental health problems.
“Childhood sexual trauma, risky health behaviours, smoking, a lack of positive support and negative social interactions pose more of a risk for people’s mental health than their sexual orientation,” said Burns.
He said, however, that homosexual and bisexual people were often more likely to experience these risk factors that could lead to mental health concerns than heterosexual people.
“It’s these other risk factors that are driving people’s risks, not their sexual orientation,” Dr Burns told The Guardian.
He went on to explain that it is a lack of support from family and the community, as well as various forms of discrimination, that increase risk factors for poor mental health. Heterosexual people under the same conditions would also face an increase in mental health risks.
The study followed about 5,000 adults over eight years as part of the Personality and Total Health Through Life Project.
“Initially, we found there was a long-term risk for depression and anxiety among individuals with a bisexual orientation, and there was long-term risk for anxiety amongst homosexual individuals. But when we adjusted for these other mental health risk factors, we found no major risk associated with sexual orientation itself,” Dr Burns said.
“We concluded that all things being equal that there is no particular mental health risk for people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation.”
The findings come as Australia’s Parliament wrestles with whether same-sex marriage should be legalised.
The study results are published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences.