Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are more likely to experience psychological problems than their heterosexual peers, partly because of the discrimination they face. Many LGBT individuals struggle with anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-esteem issues, and even depression. Previous research has shown that depression is particularly high in the LGBT population. Although there are many factors that contribute to depression, such as family history and childhood maltreatment, little is known about how these factors and others contribute to depression in LGBT people. To address this gap in research, B. P. Zietsch of the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland in Australia conducted a study on 9,884 identical and fraternal twins that were recruited from the general population.
The twins were interviewed over the phone and asked about their family history of depression, childhood abuse, domestic violence, maltreatment, family of origin design, and sexual preference. The study revealed that depression was more common among the LGBT twins than the heterosexual twins. Family history was directly related to reports of depression and sexual orientation; childhood maltreatment, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and family violence, strongly predicted both depression and sexual orientation in the twins. Specifically, men who were abused by their parents showed higher levels of depression, but not nonheterosexuality. But the women participants who were abused by their parents were more likely to be LGBT and depressed than their nondepressed heterosexual peers. Also, this same group of women reported having significantly fewer close friends than the healthy, heterosexual women.
Zietsch said, “These results suggest that genetic factors, childhood sexual abuse, and risky family environment are all involved in the elevated rate of depression in nonheterosexuals.” These findings could explain the high rates of depression in LGBT individuals that are not the result of prejudice alone. Zietsch believes that identifying childhood abuse could help clinicians better address and treat issues of depression in LGBT people.
Zietsch, B. P., Verweijh, K. J. H., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., Nelson, E. C., Lynskey. M. T. Do Shared Etiological Factors Contribute to the Relationship Between Sexual Orientation and Depression? Psychological Medicine 42.3 (2012): 521-32. Print.
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