LGB Mental Health Related to State-Level Anti-Discrimination Policies

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A recent analysis of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a large, population-based epidemiological survey of U.S. adults, showed a relationship between state-level policies that protect lesbian, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) from discrimination and hate crimes and the mental health of LGB populations.

As demonstrated in the graph above, the study affirmed the results of previous research by finding a higher prevalence of psychiatric morbidity in LGB populations as compared with heterosexuals. The study further showed that LGBs had a higher prevalence of mental disorders if they lived in a state that did not have one or more of the following protective policies:

  • Hate crime statutes that specify sexual orientation as a protected category
  • Laws banning sexual orientation discrimination in employment

Compared to LGBs living in states with one or more protective policies, LGBs who lived in states with no protective policies were significantly more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder (OR=3.34 compared to 1.86; p>.05), post-traumatic stress disorder (OR=3.64 compared to 1.83; p>.05) and to be diagnosed with two or more mental health disorders (OR=4.76 compared to 2.37; p >.05). (Source: Hatzenbuehler ML, Keyes KM, and Hasin DS, 2009, “State-level policies and psychiatric morbidity in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations.American Journal of Public Health, Volume 99, Issue 12, pp. 2275-2281.)

For Further Thought

  • The study’s findings seem to suggest that protective state-level policies create environments more supportive of LGB mental health. How do you think state level policies work to affect the psyches of LGBs? What are the psychological mechanisms at work?
  • Even with protective state level policies, LGBs were more likely to experience many types of psychiatric disorders. Aside from state policies, what other factors might contribute to disparities in LGB mental health?