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Minister Mary Harney Launches Groundbreaking Research on the Mental Health of LGBT People

Minister Mary Harney Launches Groundbreaking Research on the Mental Health of LGBT People 

Monday, 02 February 2009 

Minister Mary Harney today (Monday 2nd February) launches the report Supporting LGBT Lives: A Study of the Mental Health and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People at the Royal College of Physicians, No 6 Kildare St, Dublin 2 at 10:30am.  

This research is the most significant study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) mental health and well-being in Ireland to date,” said Michael Barron, Director of BeLonG To Youth Service, commissioners of the research along with GLEN – the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. The report outlines findings from 1,110 completed online surveys and from 40 in-depth face-to-face interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of all ages.  

The study shows that LGBT people still face considerable levels of stigmatisation, discrimination and harassment in their daily lives. The majority of LGBT people learn to cope with this, aided by the support of family and friends, and by engaging with LGBT organisations,” said Barron.  

However, a significant number LGBT people in the study, most particularly younger LGBT, endured these experiences without support. Many also faced additional stress from experiences such as very high levels of homophobic bullying in schools and physical and verbal attacks. This had a negative impact on their mental health, leading to significant levels of psychological distress, self-harm and suicidality,” said Odhrán Allen, Director of Mental Health Strategy at GLEN.  

The research clearly highlights the negative effects of stigmatisation, harassment and discrimination – what is termed Minority Stress – on LGBT people. Some of the key findings that demonstrate the level of harassment experienced by LGBT people are: 

  • 80% of online respondents had been verbally abused because of their LGBT identity 
  • 40% were threatened with physical violence 
  • 25% had been punched, kicked or beaten 
  • 58% of the overall sample reported the existence of homophobic bullying in their schools  
  • Over half had been called abusive names related to their sexual orientation or gender identity by fellow students 
  • 40% had been verbally threatened by fellow students 
  • A quarter of the overall sample had been physically threatened by their peers 
  • 20% missed or skipped school because they felt threatened or were afraid of getting hurt at school 
  • 34% reported homophobic comments by teachers or other staff members 

A quarter of those who had ever worked had been called abusive names related to their sexual orientation or gender identity with 15% being verbally threatened and 7% physically threatened by work colleagues 

Resilience, or the ability to cope with this stigmatisation and harassment came primarily from developing strong social sources of support and developing a positive LGBT identity. The support of friends and family, and positive experiences in communities, schools or workplaces are critical in developing this resilience. The study also found that the majority (81%) of LGBT people are now comfortable with their identity, with over two thirds of respondents disclosing their identity (coming out) to all their immediate families,” said Allen.  

However, for the most vulnerable, the research showed heightened levels of psychological distress arising from stigmatisation and harassment, leading to significant levels of self-harm and suicidality. The most common age that LGBT people realised their sexual orientation or gender identity was 12 years of age, with the average being 14 years; the most common age that they disclosed their identity to others was 17 years of age, with the average being 21 years.   

On average, there was a 7-year period between people knowing they were LGBT and disclosing this to others. This period of vulnerability coincided with participant’s school-going years and their negotiation of early adulthood – a time of critical social and emotional development,” said Barron.  

A picture emerged, from the online research, of the most vulnerable participants: 

  • 27% had self-harmed at least once 
  • 85% of those who had self-harmed had done so more than once 
  • 40% of female respondents and 20% of male respondents reported a history of self-harm 
  • 16 years of age was the average age of onset of self-harm 
  • Over 50% of those who self-harmed did not seek any form of help 
  • 17.7% of the online sample had attempted suicide, of whom almost half saw this as related to their LGBT identity 
  • 17 and a half years of age was the average age of first suicide attempt 
  • 25% of female respondents and 15% of males had attempted suicide at least once 

The findings on self-harm and suicidality were strongly linked to experiences of being physically or verbally threatened, of physically hurt; feeling alone and socially isolated, particularly in school, and a fear of or actually experiencing rejection by friends and family. Similarly, for those who attempted suicide, being physically threatened or attacked, or experiencing homophobic bullying in schools were identified as risk factors.  

Critically, stopping self-harm was linked to positive turnabout or life event, such as transition out of secondary school. It was also strongly linked to young people’s own positive efforts to counteract the emotional turmoil and pain arising from minority stress,” said Barron.  

While younger people appear to be more at risk of self-harm and suicidality, it is important to emphasise that not all young LGBT people are vulnerable. Given the findings on the particular vulnerability of some young people during the schooling years, it is vitally important that action is taken to support and protect LGBT young people in our schools and communities,” continued Barron  

While the findings in this report are at times harrowing, it is heartening to learn that most LGBT people develop resilience to the stress caused with stigmatisation, harassment and discrimination, and live happy and satisfying lives,” said Allen.   

Improving the visibility and status of LGBT people in Irish society must underpin all efforts to address the psychological distress and suicidality uncovered in the research and to support the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT people. This extends across all areas of Irish life, including health and social policies and services, families and friends, schools and workplaces and the wider community,” said Allen.  


Note for Editors:  

  1. GLEN – Gay and Lesbian Equality Network –  is a Policy and Strategy focused NGO which aims to deliver ambitious and positive change for lesbian, gay and bisexual people (LGB) in Ireland, ensuring full equality, inclusion and protection from all forms of discrimination.
  2. BeLonG To Youth Services –  provides a range of services to LGBT youth in Dublin and across the country in partnership with national and regional youth organisations, and works to further develop mainstream policies to respond to the needs of LGBT young people.
  3. The research is authored by Paula Mayock, Audrey Bryan, Nicola Carr and Karl Kitching. Dr. Paula Mayock can be contacted at the Children’s Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin (01 896-2636) and Dr. Audrey Bryan can be contacted at the School of Education, University College Dublin (01 716-7970).
  4. A briefing note on the main findings of the research is available.
  5. Download a Copy of the Research.