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Youths who identify as sexual minorities more vulnerable to depression from age 10

Findings suggest that sexual minority youths and are four times more likely to report recent self-harm at ages 16 and 21 years than their heterosexual peers.

Image: Shutterstock/Kingcraft

DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS ARE more common among young people who identify as sexual minorities than heterosexual youths, even from the age of 10, according to new research.

An observational study of 5,000 young people from 10 to 1 years of age in the UK, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, found youths in these groups consistently experience more symptoms of depression and report more self harm than heterosexual youths.

This is the case through their school years and into early adulthood.

Previous research found that annually between 2001 and 2014, on average across 10- to 19-year-olds in the UK, around 37 per 10,000 girls and 12 per 10,000 boys were treated for self-harm.

The findings suggest that sexual minority youths are four times more likely to report recent self-harm at ages 16 and 21 years than their heterosexual peers, and are at higher risk of depressive symptoms from as young as 10 years old.

“It is very concerning that despite changes in public perceptions and attitudes, sexual-minority youth remain at increased risk of long-term mental health problems,” said Dr Gemma Lewis from University College London, UK, who led the research.

Our findings underscore the importance of mental health problems before conscious self-identification and labelling of sexual-minority orientation. It is imperative that we find new ways to reach these adolescents and that they are able to access high-quality support services from a young age.

There is little research that has looked at when increased risk for these mental-health problems emerges and how it develops over time.

Lewis said the lack of sexual minority role models and “unquestioning acceptance of rigid concepts of gendered behaviour” should be challenged in schools and society at large.

“We also need to ensure that doctors and those working in mental health are aware of this inequality and recognise the needs of sexual minorities,” she said.

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