Objectives: Recent studies suggest that lesbians and gay men are at higher risk for stress-sensitive psychiatric disorders than are heterosexual persons. We examined the possible role of perceived discrimination in generating that risk.
Methods: The National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, a nationally representative sample of adults aged 25 to 74 years, surveyed individuals self-identifying as homosexual or bisexual (n = 73) or heterosexual (n = 2844) about their lifetime and day-to-day experiences with discrimination. Also assessed were 1-year prevalence of depressive, anxiety, and substance dependence disorders; current psychologic distress; and self-rated mental health.
Results: Homosexual and bisexual individuals more frequently than heterosexual persons reported both lifetime and day-to-day experiences with discrimination. Approximately 42% attributed this to their sexual orientation, in whole or part. Perceived discrimination was positively associated with both harmful effects on quality of life and indicators of psychiatric morbidity in the total sample. Controlling for differences in discrimination experiences attenuated observed associations between psychiatric morbidity and sexual orientation.
Conclusions: Higher levels of discrimination may underlie recent observations of greater psychiatric morbidity risk among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.