Childhood Adversity Contributes to Mental Health Issues in LGB Individuals

According to a recent study led by Judith P. Andersen of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto in Canada, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults are more likely to have experienced various forms of childhood adversity than their heterosexual peers. In her study, Andersen explored different forms of childhood adversity, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, divorce, marital discord, and neglect. She also included parental mental illness and parental substance use as forms of maltreatment and adversity. Using the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale (ACE), Andersen wanted to not only compare adversity between LGB adults and heterosexual adults, but also see if there were significant disparities in the adversities experienced by lesbian and gay individuals when compared to bisexual individuals.

Andersen analyzed data from over 22,000 adults and found that compared to heterosexuals, LGB individuals had much higher rates of childhood adversity. In particular, LGB-identified people were more likely to have experienced all forms of abuse, parental mental illness, family incarceration, and parental substance abuse than heterosexuals. However, only the bisexual participants reported high levels of parental discord. It has been clearly established that LGB adults have higher rates of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, than heterosexual adults. Andersen believes that perhaps the high rates of childhood adversity contribute to these conditions in LGB individuals, especially when coupled by the additional stress of being victimized and bullied for their sexuality.

The results of this study in no way suggest that childhood adversity leads to sexual orientation. Instead, they suggest that LGB individuals who have experienced challenges resulting from their orientation may be more reflective of their pasts. They tend to seek out therapy in higher numbers than their heterosexual counterparts and this experience may encourage them to be more open to recognizing and identifying childhood adversity. In other words, many LGB individuals may be more willing to admit the difficulties of their childhoods because of their adult experiences. Andersen believes that her results shed new light on how childhood experiences of LGB adults can differ from those of heterosexual adults. She also has shown that it is important to examine each specific sexual orientation independently to better understand how family history and childhood adversity may vary. She added, “We recommend the use of the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale in future research examining health disparities among this minority population.”

Andersen, Judith P., and John Blosnich. Disparities in Adverse Childhood Experiences among sexual minority and heterosexual adults: Results from a multi-state probability-based sample. PLoS One 8.1 (2013): 1-7. Print.

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  • Grant

    March 4th, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    Maybe if we stop treating them differently they can better express themselves. This is a disturbing trend and needs to be known by many more people.

    another thing I hope is not true-these kids being bullied and ill treated because of their orientation early in life. i hope that is not true.

  • shanna

    March 5th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    OK so there is nothing positive about this at all EXCEPT that i did notice that the kids who are living as LGB as adults and were faced with bullying or other action against them as children are seeking out therapy more often now. yes, I know that the ideal situation would be that they not have to do that, but at least it has become a movement toward where they are trying and word is getting out in the therapeutic community that this is ok, you can be accepted here, and there is help to allow you to get past the adversity that you may have lived with as a child.

  • mandy

    March 5th, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    I know it mentions the study does not mean to say childhood adversity leads to sexual orientation. but as a bisexual woman it certainly did sound like it. maybe they need to change this a little bit!

  • Ryanne

    March 6th, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    I wonder of there are thoughts out there about whether LGB children are at risk for facing more cruelty as a child simply because of their orientation and who they know that they are but do not know how to show?

  • shaindy

    March 10th, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    im left speechless
    im begining to openly question my sexual orientation i lived in a home with lots of parental discord shouting and fighting and lots of emotional and physical abuse…
    is there ay way to share this?

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