New research suggests a change in sexual identity toward same-sex attraction in early adulthood is often associated with symptoms of depression.
Using information obtained in a national survey, sociologists from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) discovered that these young adults reported more symptoms of depression than those whose sexual orientations did not change or changed in the opposite direction.
The study is found in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviors.
Researchers found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who initially identified as heterosexual or who had not reported same-sex romantic attraction or relationships were more likely to experience depressive symptoms than others.
This includes heterosexual, bisexual, gay, and lesbian individuals who reported stable sexual identities throughout the survey period, as well as people whose identities changed from gay, lesbian, or bisexual to heterosexual or from gay or lesbian to bisexual.
The survey results suggest that a sexual identity change toward same-sex attraction may continue to be a stressful life event despite American society’s increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, said study author Dr. Bethany Everett, an assistant professor of sociology at UIC.
“This study highlights the need for social support during periods of sexual identity transition toward same-sex attraction, not just for adolescents, but also for young adults,” said Everett. “Supporting people during this time-period may be critical for improving their mental health.”
Researchers assessed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, also known as Add Health. The study included over 11,200 respondents who were interviewed in both the third (2001-2002) and fourth (2008-2009) waves of the survey about topics including their depressive symptoms. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 26 in wave three and 25 to 33 in wave four.
Everett said future research should continue to investigate the factors that contribute to the link between sexual identity change and symptoms of depression.
“It may be that changes to bisexual, gay, or lesbian identities expose young adults to new sources of LGBT-related discrimination,” she said. “Additionally, there is a certain amount of stigma attached to sexual fluidity itself that may impact mental health during this developmental period.”