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9 February 2011
Victimization disrupts hormonal system
by George Atkinson

The stress of being rejected or victimized because of sexual orientation can disrupt hormonal responses in lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGB), say researchers from Concordia University. Their research also revealed that young gay or lesbian adults are at a far higher risk for severe mental health problems than their heterosexual peers.

"Compared to their heterosexual peers, suicide rates are up to 14 times higher among LGB high school and college students," says Michael Benibgui, who led this investigation as part of his PhD thesis. "Depression and anxiety are widespread. To learn why this occurs, we studied the physiological impact of homophobic social environments on a group of healthy young LGB adults."

Specifically, the study examined the link between living in a homophobic environment and "internalized homophobia" (feeling negatively about oneself because of one's sexual identity as LGB). Individuals who experienced more LGB-related stress had higher internalized homophobia and showed increased production of the stress hormone cortisol compared to peers in more positive environments.

Additionally, LGB youth who showed more internalized homophobia and abnormal cortisol activity also experienced increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. "This study is among the first to clearly link the experience of homophobia with abnormal cortisol activity," says Benibgui.

Preventative interventions are needed to protect vulnerable lesbian, gay or bisexual youth, Benibgui stresses, to discourage homophobic and heterosexist behaviors from peers and communities. He notes that social support from parents and peers has protective effects. "LGB young adults who experienced more homophobic discrimination, yet felt accepted and supported by their peers, showed very few symptoms of depression," he explained.

Prevalence of mental disorders gauged in gay youth
Risky sex linked to feeling undesirable
The Nurture And Nature Of Homophobia
Victimization Chief Factor Behind Gay Suicides

Source: Concordia University

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