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Mental health problems highest among lesbian, gay and bisexual women


By Jess Hacker
8 July 2021

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Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more than twice as likely to report having a mental health, behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorder, new figures have shown.

Data published by NHS Digital (6 July) indicated that 16% of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults reported experiencing one of the three as a longstanding condition, compared to just 6% of heterosexual people.

In the survey, a longstanding condition was defined as any physical or mental condition lasting or expected to last 12 months or more.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual adults were also more likely to score lower on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) at 48.9 points, compared with 51.4 points in heterosexual adults.

Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, women reported the lowest well-being scores (47.3).

Higher risk of alcohol-related harm

The survey data also indicated that nearly a third (32%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual people drank alcohol at levels likely to put them at risk (14 units a week).

This compared to just under a quarter (24%) among straight adults.

Additionally, among respondents from an ethnic minority background, lesbian, gay and bisexual adults were less likely to report no alcohol consumption within the last week (55%) compared to heterosexual adults (71%).

There was no notable difference among white respondents.

Similarly, lesbian, gay and bisexual people were more likely to be smokers (27%) than heterosexual people (18%).

The proportion of adults who currently smoked cigarettes was highest among lesbian, gay and bisexual women (31%) and lowest among heterosexual women (16%).

Supporting LGBTQ+ NHS staff

LGBTQ+ NHS staff will disproportionately experience poor mental health, and managers  must be able to suitably support those staff members, the NHS Confederation’s LGBTQ+ Leadership Network has said.

Peter Molyneux, chair of the network, said: ‘What isn’t often taken into consideration is that our LGBTQ+ healthcare staff will be among those disproportionately suffering from mental ill health, and there is a lot of work for leaders to do to ensure they are suitably supported.’

The network is currently developing an implementation framework for its post-Covid recommendations, which it said will put LGBTQ+ staff and service users ‘at the heart of guidance to encourage inclusive cultures to be fostered’.

However, Mr Molyneux added: ‘It is disappointing that this data set does not include information on trans and non-binary staff. However, many NHS and charity organisations are working hard to support this vulnerable population, and capture accurate data around their needs.

‘Our Network is working to develop trans allyship across the healthcare landscape, and the LGBT Foundation will shortly publish updated guidance on data collection.’

No data on trans status

NHS Digital’s chief statistician, Chris Roebuck, said that ‘one of the biggest benefits’ to collecting and publishing health data is ‘the ability to highlight health inequalities’.‘We’re pleased to be able to publish these lesbian, gay and bisexual statistics for the first time, which show important differences in health status and behaviours,’ he said.

However, the dataset – which is based on Health Survey for England (HSE) surveys from 2011 to 2018 – did not collect information on gender identity or transgender status, with health outcomes and related behaviours for trans and non-binary people not recorded.

NHS Digital said that gender identity is ‘currently being considered’ for future HSE surveys.

Earlier this year, the LGBTQ+ Leadership Network outlined the need for staff to be more confident collecting data on gender identity, while  Mr Molyneux told Healthcare Leader the NHS needed to ‘build confidence and trust with LGBTQ+ patients’.

2011 was the first year to give respondents the opportunity to disclose their sexual orientation. Of the 58,226 adults (aged 16 and over) survey, 1,132 identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, with an additional 1,421 marking ‘other’ or not disclosing.

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