Posts Tagged As: Mental Health

Depression, Bullying Combine For Another Suicide

Jim Burroway

October 17th, 2011

Fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley, of Ottawa, Ont., killed himself this weekend after struggling with depression and bullying. Jamie was reportedly the only openly gay student at his school, and he wrote on his blog about the difficulties of being gay and with his struggles with depression:

In a post three weeks ago, he said he was depressed, that medications he was taking weren’t working, and that being gay in high school was so hard — a thousand times harder in real life than on the popular television show, Glee, which he loved.

“I hate being the only open gay guy in my school … It f—ing sucks, I really want to end it,” he wrote.

The blog postings are interspersed with angst-filled quotes and startling images of self-harm — gathered from all over the web, as well as other pictures of celebrities, clothing and men kissing passionately.

Last Friday, he posted his final message:

He thanked his family and his friends, but wrote that he just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Im tired of life really. Its so hard, Im sorry, I cant take it anymore.

“Its just too hard,” he wrote, later referencing It Gets Better, a popular online campaign in which millions of people have posted heartfelt video messages directed at young people struggling with their sexuality and acceptance in the world.

“I dont want to wait 3 more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.”

This suicide comes just three weeks after fourteen-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself. Suicide prevention experts, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Trevor Project, worry that high-profile suicides could trigger what’s known as a “suicide contagion.”  It should be noted that Hubley didn’t reference Rodemeyer in any of his posts, and so it’s not clear that this is the case here. But it should also be noted that there were other, clear warning signs in his posts — particularly with the images of self-harm. Huber’s left arm was already scarred from prior episodes of self-cutting. The blog posts over the past several weeks indicate that he has been thinking about this for quite a while.

Suicide is not the natural end result to bullying. But it does leave vulnerable kids who are already struggling with depression with just one more thing to cope with. Some can’t, and they often can’t or won’t directly reach out for help. Telling gay kids that “It Gets Better” is a great start for those who aren’t struggling with mental illness. But for the others, more is needed.  For more information on general suicide prevention, research and help-seeking resources, see the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). If you or someone you know needs help, see The Trevor Project’s web site or call the Trevor Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

An obvious but necessary report about depression

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2010

One of the tools used by those who deeply desire to make your life more stressful and difficult are statistics about depression. Because, yes, gay people suffer higher levels of depression.

And while it’s pretty obvious that being treated with contempt by the government, many families, more than a few churches, about half the politicians, and a whole lot of society would certainly seem like a cause for depression and a threat to mental health, anti-gays would like society to believe that homosexuality is inherently a cause of mental illness, if not a mental illness itself. They argue that somehow homosexual behavior (because “no one is really gay”) is so obviously against “natural law” that the depression we feel is really guilt and shame over our deviance.

Now a new study provides evidence of the correlation between family support and mental health. (Time)

Now a study reveals for the first time the impact that a supportive family can have on the physical and mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual children. Researchers led by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, a research, education and policy initiative designed to better understand the role that sexual orientation has on family dynamics, found that teens from families who supported their sexual orientation were less likely to abuse drugs, experience depression or attempt suicide than those in less accepting families. The teens in the more supportive environments also self-reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth.

Oh, and as for “helping” your kids by trying to make them heterosexual… well, Exodus isn’t going to like this study much.

Ryan points out, for example, that parents who tried to show support by attempting to change their children’s sexual preferences — in order to help their children become more accepted in school and society — were instead perceived as rejecting their child’s individuality and sexual expression. “What we showed was that by trying to prevent a child from learning about their sexual identity or from being part of support groups, or by telling them they are ashamed of them or not talking about their sexual identity, these kinds of reactions are rejecting behaviors that are all linked to negative health and mental health outcomes in children when they become adults,” says Ryan.

Now those who believe that Teh Gheys are a threat to all that is good and dear will just ignore this study. They aren’t that much invested in reality to begin with, and they are quite suspicious of things that challenge the “Truth” that the have chosen to believe.

But this study will be quite useful to decent folk who aren’t really sure what to do. It lists specific responses – dos and don’ts – for how to keep your kid feeling supported and healthy.

Family “Research” Council Gets It Wrong On LGBT Mental Health

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2010

The Washington Post has been taking a very strong lurch to the far right recently. If you have any doubt about that, then consider this op-ed by Tony Perkins, which is completely indistinguishable from the propaganda regularly promulgated by his Family “Research” Council. In this lovely gem gracing the WaPo’s web site, Perkins blames gay people for the teen suicides that has garnered so much attention recently:

Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal–yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are “born gay” and can never change. This–and not society’s disapproval–may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.”

Perkins preceded that outrageous statement with this “evidence”:

There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society’s general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most “gay-friendly” country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems. [Hyperlinks in the original]

I guess Perkins doesn’t actually intend for people to click on those hyperlinks. Apparently, he intended them for decoration, the same way FRC people regularly sprinkle their publications with footnotes to make them look more scholarly. But I would invite you to go ahead and click on the first one, which points to a 2002 article from the Monitor On Psychology, the American Psychological Association’s official magazine. Among the studies discussed  in that article was one by Susan Cochran (“Emerging issues in research on lesbians’ and gay men’s mental health: Does sexual orientation really matter?” American Psychologist, 56, no. 11 (Nov 2001): 931-947). Her study did find elevated levels of psychological distress among gay people. However,

For one thing, she says, “these are certainly not levels of morbidity consistent with models that say homosexuality is inherently pathological.” For another, the data simply don’t prove either pro- or anti-gay arguments on the subject, whether it’s that the inherent biology of homosexuality causes mental illness or that social stigma provokes mental illness in LGB people, she says.

Cochran also predicted that her study would, no doubt, be misused by anti-gay people like Perkins “to falsely promulgate the argument that gay people are by nature mentally ill.” She was right.

But while her study couldn’t settle the social stigma question, the very next study mentioned in the article came very close to doing just that. This one by Vickie Mays and Susan Cochran (“Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health, 91, no 11 (Nov 2001): 1869-1876. Full study available online here.) “explored whether ongoing discrimination fuels anxiety, depression and other stress-related mental health problems among LGB people,” wrote the Monitor. “The authors found strong evidence of a relationship between the two.” The Monitor continues:

GB respondents reported higher rates of perceived discrimination than heterosexuals in every category related to discrimination, the team found.

While the findings do not prove that discrimination causes mental health problems, they take a step toward demonstrating that the social stigma felt by LGB people has important mental health consequences. That again points to the need for tailored mental health treatment, in particular therapy that includes ongoing discussion of how discriminatory experiences may affect stress levels, they note.

So, instead of blaming the problems that gay people have on simply being gay — as Tony Perkins does by pretending that science does the same — actual real live scientists have found very much the opposite, that social stigma provides a very strong explanation for the psychological distress that LGBT people face.

By the way, that same Monitor article went on to describe two other studies that found that lesbians, especially those who are already out, are actually doing quite nicely on the coping front, thank you very much. They also measured higher in self-esteem. Tony Perkins somehow forgot to mention that.

But where there is evidence of social stress, there is evidence of higher levels of psychological distress. And that extends to “the evidence from the Netherlands.” Here, Perkins links to the full text of that study online, but he appears not to have read it. While the study’s authors notes that the Netherlands is generally more tolerant, it doesn’t mean that LGBT people there are free from anti-gay bias and stress. After all, “more tolerant” is not the same as tolerant. And as for the study’s findings, the authors offered this explanation:

The effects of social factors on the mental health status of homosexual men and women have been well documented in studies, which found a relationship between experiences of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination and mental health status. Furthermore, controlling for psychological predictors of present distress seems to eliminate differences in mental health status between heterosexual and homosexual adolescents.

Chris Crain, after his assault in Amsterdam.

Chris Crain, after his assault in Amsterdam.

In fact, anti-gay violence has actually been on the rise in the Netherlands. It’s gotten so bad that a recent rally to protest the rise in anti-gay violence was marred by attacks and threats to LGBT people who were leaving the protest. In 2005, Chris Crain, former editor of the Washington Blade, was gay-bashed in Amsterdam by two persons who called him and his partner “fucking fags.” An observer in the U.K. wrote, “Reports across all media have pointed out that the events of April 30th (the date of Crain’s attack) weren’t a one-off, and that a growing number of lesbians and gay men don’t feel as safe on the streets as they once did.”

This is the nirvana in which, according to Perkins, there is no prejudice or discrimination against gay people.

Perkins’ claim that gay people are their own worst enemy is wholly unsubstantiated and completely without merit. But that is pretty much to be expected from the Family “Research” Council. What’s not expected is for the Washington Post to serve as this propagandist’s mouthpiece without any move by the fact checkers. I assume they still exist there; I could be mistaken.

Uganda social worker association endorses the Kill Gays bill

Timothy Kincaid

March 26th, 2010

NASWUThe National Association of Social Workers of Uganda (NASWU) has issued a statement in response to the Kill Gays bill currently before the legislature.

The purpose of this statement is to ensure that Uganda and other nations in Africa and around the world develop appropriate policy responses to the issue of homosexuality. Professional ethics demand that professional bodies like NASWU provide guidance that is free of political influence; because when wrong policies are developed based on politically-based positions, it is members of the public who suffer or miss out on the good life they could have enjoyed. [emphasis in the original]

They begin with a history lesson. But sadly, there is little fact included in their statement. They rely heavily on the anti-gay pseudo-scientific group NARTH and anti-Kinsey writer Judith Reisman. Both of these sources have been criticized by the communities of science for radical historical revision, shoddy research, and analysis that begins with the conclusion and searches for confirmation.

They use this “history” to explain that homosexuality is changeable (by “professionals like clinical psychologists or religious leaders”) and has no genetic basis (as backed up by “all authoritative scientific studies”).

Then NASWU explains “how human behavior operates”:

1) “indulgence in a given behavior conditions an organism to continue exhibiting such behavior with greater intensity” and ceasing the behavior leads to “extinction”;

2) “social acceptance and legal approval” leads to “social learning”,

3) Human behavior may be influenced at the spiritual level. Human beings are composed of three main parts, namely: the body, the soul and the spirit. A human’s spirit can either be empty or inhabited by a good (or holy) or bad (or evil) spirit. These spiritual forces are capable of influencing human behavior beyond the voluntary control of the person possessed by them. This is why, in the New Testament Bible, Jesus cast out evil demonic forces from people exhibiting what psychologists would term “schizophrenia”, and the affected persons immediately recovered normal behavior patterns. Demonic activity can be violent or latent as in the case of Mary Magdalene, a woman whose work as a prostitute had demonic link, until she met Jesus. For this reason, Social Work should include the study of the spiritual dimension of life and how it may be applied to promote well-being and social functioning.

4) Human behavior can be influenced at the level of the soul. The soul consists of the “Mind”, the “Will” and the “Emotions”. When individuals understand with their mind the justification for not behaving in a certain way, that strengthens their ability to exercise their “Will” to “reign-in” their emotions, which are often difficult to control.

And before the usual litany of imaginary, exaggerated, and discredited ookie-spookie mental and physical plagues and weird sounding diseases they weigh in on “the question of human rights”. They decide that there is no “right to indulgence” and that those in the US who voted against marriage did not go far enough (they link to Yes on 8):

It is delusional and unsustainable, however, to allow the population to practice a behavior which they cannot consummate as marriage. Any restrictions on same-sex marriage must first involve restrictions on homosexual behavior itself.

Finally we come to their recommendations based on their “independent findings”.

Given the aforementioned information about homosexuality and human behavior and these developments in Uganda and internationally, we advise as follows:

  • 1. NASWU rejects the view that same-sex attraction is an innate “orientation”, rather, it is part of a range of feelings individuals ought to learn to bring under control as they mature;
  • 2. There is justification for Uganda to put in place appropriate legislation to comprehensively prohibit homosexuality;
  • 3. The Anti-homosexuality Bill has drafting errors in the way some offences and penalties are conceived, that should be corrected before its passage;
  • 4. The clause requiring mandatory reporting of all known homosexual offences should be amended to exempt disclosure made in counseling situations, in organizations licensed to offer same-sex counseling services, to encourage those experiencing same-sex attractions to seek professional help on behavior management. To be licensed, such counseling organizations must sign an undertaking not to dispense pro-homosexual advice to their clients.
  • 5. The Parliament of Uganda is acclaimed worldwide for writing some of the best laws in the world. The Anti-homosexuality Bill will go through the established scrutiny that all bills undergo before they become law. As in previous instances, an appropriate law will emerge from this process that even other countries may want to emulate. Members of the public as well as Social Workers should express their views to the concerned committee in Parliament to ensure that their views inform the law-making process.

It appears that while NASWU seeks to remove provisions for mandatory reporting and included provisions for forced therapy, it has no problem with death sentences or life-time imprisonment. In fact, they call for comprehensive prohibition along with a de-licensing of anyone who disagrees with their political agenda.

There is little doubt that this statement will discredit NASWU in the eyes of the international social worker community. Few western social work organizations will see this as other than ignorance, superstition, and a totalitarian instinct to stifle dissent.

And such proclamations not only reflect poorly on NASWU, but they harm the greater population of the nation and the continent. Such endorsement of exorcisms and the rejection of legitimate science seems intuitively out of place in a modern world and will lead to further dismissal of the Ugandan people – and all Africans – as backwards, third World, and intellectually inferior.

But this statement does add confirmation to those of us who see the current anti-gay upsurge in Uganda to be related to anti-gay advocacy imported from America. Throughout the lengthy piece runs two contradictory themes: the moral superiority of Ugandans, and the complete reliance on American sources, American beliefs, and American actions.

While homophobia is undoubtedly deeply rooted in Ugandan culture, they seem to be seeking American permission and confirmation for these attitudes, exactly the sort of permission and confirmation that was provided by the anti-gay conference in March 2009 attended by American holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, International Healing Foundation’s Caleb Brundidge, and Exodus International boardmember Don Schmierer.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Research: Anti-Gay Harassment in Childhood Leads To Poor Adult Health

Jim Burroway

January 28th, 2009

Mark S. Friedman, Michael P. Marshall, Ron Stall, JeeWon Cheong, Eric R Wright. “Gay-related development, early abuse and adult health outcomes among gay males.” AIDS and Behavior 12, no. 6 (November 2008): 891-902. Abstract available at DOI 10.1007/s10461-007-9319-3.

The Urban Men’s Health Survey (UMHS) has revealed a lot of useful information in the decade since it was conducted. Much of it “dismaying,” in the words of Ron Stall, who worked on the survey at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is now at the University of Pittsburgh. Stall was one of four researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (joined by a fifth researcher from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis) who analyzed a subset of that data and concluded that “experience of homophobic attacks against young gay/bisexual male youth helps to explain heightened rates of serious health problems among adult gay men.”

The UMHS was a telephone interview of a probability sample of men who have sex with men (MSMs) living in four cities: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The survey was conducted between November 1996 and February 1998, with 2,881 UMHS participants being asked a wide-ranging battery of questions resulting in 855 variables. The results of that survey were fed into a database, which scores of researchers have been mining ever since for dozens of studies covering many different topics. Dr, Mark Friedman, who has previously investigated the link between anti-gay hostility and suicide among young gay males, led a team which poured over responses to key questions in that database to see if a link could be established between anti-gay hostility against young gay men and adverse health outcomes as adults.

Among the many questions in that survey, participants were asked about their experiences, if any, with parental physical abuse, gay-related harassment during childhood and adolescence, and forced sex. They were also asked about four gay-related identity milestones: the age at which they became aware of their same-sex attractions, age of first same-sex sexual activity, age of deciding that they were gay, and age of first disclosure that they were gay.

Participants were also asked about current depression, HIV serostatus, sexual risk behavior during childhood, partner abuse during adulthood, anti-gay victimization during adulthood, and suicide attempts during childhood.

Dr. Mark Friedman and associates used the responses from these questions from 1,383 men aged 18 through 40, and divided them into three categories (early bloomers, middle bloomers and late bloomers) according to how participants answered questions based on the four gay-related identity milestones. Then, by looking at the answers to the other questions, they were able to demonstrate three principle findings:

1) Gay males who developed early with respect to their sexual orientation were much more likely to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse during adolescence than middle bloomers and late bloomers. This might be something of a “duh” conclusion since it stands to reason that those who are more visibly gay draw more attention than those who aren’t, and those who are visibly gay earlier have more time in which to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish this finding statistically, because it leads to the next finding.

2) Those early bloomers were also more likely to anti-gay victimization, depression, and become HIV-positive as an adult. Taken alone, this finding might play into the hands of anti-gay activists who contend that gay youth should remain closeted and continue to deny their true experiences for as long as possible. Well, not so fast, because…

3) While early bloomers were more likely to experience adverse health outcomes as adults, it wasn’t just because they were early bloomers. Friedman and associates found that harassment and violence were very common experiences among all young gay and bisexual males. Regardless of “bloomage,” 74% reported experiencing anti-gay harassment and 24% experienced parental physical abuse before the age of 17. And these experiences were capable of statistically predicting specific negative health outcomes as adults:

  • Early gay-related harassment was found to be positively associated with gay-related victimization in adulthood;
  • early parental abuse was found to be positively associated with partner abuse, gay-related victimization, depression, attempted suicide and becoming HIV-positive;
  • and early forced sex was positively associated with adult partner abuse, depression, engagement in high-risk sex, and becoming HIV-positive.

The men in this survey became adults, on average, in the mid 1980’s. We don’t know whether adolescents today experience statistically the same levels of abuse and harassment as adolescents did then. But the authors conclude that regardless of the extent of anti-gay harassment today, that:

“…a compelling case can still be made that the three sets of findings above, as a whole, support the hypothesis that the experience of homophobic attacks against gay youth contribute to health disparities among gay men. … [T]his suggests that their experience of abuse is related to homophobia and that these experiences in part determine the adult health problems that gay men often experience.

“To summarize, some of the health disparities of gay and bisexual men may have their genesis in these individuals’ childhood and adolescent years given that these disparities are already in place by early adulthood. The findings described above support the hypotheses that the disparities appear to be due, in part, to the timing of [gay-related development] and the violence these individuals experience related to being gay during their formative years.”

This week is National No Name Calling Week, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). According to GLSEN’s non-representative survey of 6,209 middle and high school students, 86% of LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, 61% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 33% skipped a day of school in the past month because of they felt unsafe. This survey isn’t statistically representative nationwide, but that’s beside the point. They found an awful lot of harassed and frightened kids out there.

Of course, Focus On the Family is against No Name Calling Week, complaining that it has a hidden agenda. And they’re right; it does. The “hidden agenda” consists of safer youth and healthier adults, which Focus continues to oppose at all costs. After all, they’ve invested a lot of energy in maintaining the image of gay men as depressed, suicidal and unhealthy. Now we know that their own policy solutions will only serve to perpetuate that image.

Study Identifies Link Between Rejecting Parents and Negative Health Among LGB Youth

Jim Burroway

January 6th, 2009

Caitlin Ryan, David Huebner, Rafael M. Diaz, Jorge Sanchez. “Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual young adults.” Pediatrics 123, No. 1 (January 2009): 346-352. (DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-3524)

In a new paper published this month, Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues at San Francisco State University were able to demonstrate a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child’s sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood. According to this study, such adverse health problems include depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts. This study appeared in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is being hailed as a landmark departure from previous studies, which tended to look at a wider range of sources of social rejection — schools, peers, etc. This study looked specifically at parental acceptance or rejection and its impact on LGB youth health.

The study was based on questionnaires administered to a sample of 224 white and latino LGB young adults, aged 21 to 25, and open about their sexual orientation to at least one parent or guardian. (Twenty-one additional participants who identified as transgender were also recruited, but their numbers were too small for statistical analysis, and thus were excluded from this particular study.) Participants were recruited through various venues, including bars, clubs, LGBT service agencies and community groups, all within 100 miles of San Francisco.

On average, participants became aware of their same-sex attractions at the age of 10.76 years. They came out to themselves at age 14.16 on average, came out to others at age 15.32 on average, and came out to family at age 15.82 on average. Men were on average aware of their same-sex attractions about two years earlier than women, and they came out to themselves about one year earlier than women.

Study participants were asked a series of questions resulting in 51 close-ended items that assessed the presence and frequency of each rejecting parental or guardian reaction to the participant’s sexual identity when they were teenagers. The questionnaire used, the FAP Family Rejection Scale, has a high internal consistency (Cronbach’s α = .98).

Levels of depression were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Substance use and abuse were quantified in 3 ways: heavy alcohol drinking in the past 6 months, use of illicit drugs in the past 6 months, and substance use–related problems in the last 5 years. Sexual behavior was assessed in the last 6 months by asking about number, gender, and type of sexual partners, type of sexual activity, and whether condoms were used when activity involved anal or vaginal penetration.

Compared to peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection, LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were:

  • 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide,
  • 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression,
  • 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs,
  • 3.4 times more likely to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse.

To give you an idea of how dramatic an effect that higher levels of family rejection can have on an individual, here’s something else to ponder. Compared to peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection, LGB young adults who reported only moderate levels of family rejection during adolescence were:

  • 2.3 times more likely to report having attempted suicide,
  • 2.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression,
  • 1.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs,
  • about as likely (1.04 times) to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse.

Latino men reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence.

While these findings are very important, it’s important to keep in mind some of the study’s limitations. The biggest one that jumped out at me — and one the research authors didn’t address — was whether there were any confounding factors leading to these outcomes. For example, in this particular sample, what were the subjects’ experiences with peer rejection, bullying or violence? If subjects who experienced a high degree of rejection by their parents also happened to experience a greater degree of bullying, for example, then outcomes attributed to rejecting parents could have been affected by bullying as well. Since the researchers weren’t able to control for those outside factors, we don’t really know what, if any, external influences may have contributed to these outcomes.

And also, this study has all the usual weaknesses of virtually every other social science study. The authors caution:

There are several limitations to the study. This is a retrospective study that measures young adults’ reported experiences that occurred several years earlier, which may introduce some potential for, recall bias. To minimize this concern, we created measures that asked whether a specific family event related to their LGB identity actually occurred (eg, verbal abuse), rather than asking generally about “how rejecting” parents were. Although we went to great lengths to recruit a diverse sample drawing from multiple venues, our sample is technically one of convenience, and thus shares the limitations inherent in all convenience samples. Thus, these data might not represent all subpopulations of LGB young adults, as well as individuals who are neither white nor Latino. The study focused on LGB non-Latino white and Latino young adults to permit more in-depth assessment of cultural issues and experiences related to sexual orientation and gender expression, so it did not include all other groups and drew from 1 urban geographic area. Subsequent research should include greater ethnic diversity to assess potential differences in family reactions. Lastly, given the cross-sectional nature of this study, we caution against making cause–effect interpretations from these findings.

Nevertheless, this study highlights some important implications for identifying youth at risk for family violence and for being ejected from their homes. We know that LGB youth are overrepresented in foster care, juvenile detention, and among homeless youth. And we also know that conflict over an adolescent’s sexual and gender identity is one of the primary reasons for being kicked out of the home. And for whatever reason, this study seems to suggest that Latino gay and bisexual men are at a particularly higher risk of being rejected by their parents.

This study opens a long-neglected area of research. Further research which replicates and improves on this study is badly needed. But one thing for certain, those groups — specifically, certain ex-gay groups come to mind — which encourage parents to engage in rejecting behaviors with their children bear a tremendous responsibility. The cost to the well-being of LGB youths can be staggering.

Today In History: APA Removes Homosexuality from List of Mental Disorders

Jim Burroway

December 15th, 2008

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) classified homosexuality as a mental illness beginning in 1952. Before then, psychiatrists and psychologists looked at homosexuality as a perversion and as a deviant behavior, but the idea that it was a mental illness was considerably more controversial. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, famously wrote to one American mother in 1935, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness.”

But by the early 1950’s American society’s view of homosexuality took a very sharp turn toward the dark side. This turn was partly sparked by the loud controversy stirred by Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. Where before, homosexuality was little talked about; now it seemed suddenly to be everywhere. In the minds of Americans across the country, homosexuality now joined the other emerging threat, communism, as two great menaces to American order. By 1952, there had already been several purges of gays from federal employment. With the APA’s addition of homosexuality to its list of mental disorders, the fates of gays and lesbians would be sealed for the next two decades.

And as is always true in the medical and psychiatric fields, where there is an illness, there’s a quest for a cure. This was true for homosexuality long before 1952, and unfortunately it is still true today in some unenlightened circles. For the most part, the cure consisted of ordinary forms of talk therapy. But other, more abusive forms of therapy — namely electric shock therapy or therapies involving severe nausea-inducing drugs — weren’t exactly rare. And, of course, as long as gays and lesbians were labeled “mentally ill,” all manner of discrimination was made possible against those who officially declared to be operating under a mental impairment.

Thirty-five years ago today, on December 15, 1973, all of that began to change when the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees “cured” millions of gays and lesbians across America when they voted to pass this resolution (PDF: 464KB/5 pages):

For a mental or psychiatric condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder, it must either regularly cause subjective distress, or regularly be associated with some generalized impairment in social effectiveness or functioning. With the exception of homosexuality (and perhaps some of the other sexual deviations when in mild form, such as voyeurism), all of the other mental disorders in DSM-1 fulfill either of these two criteria. (While one may argue that the personality disorders are an exception, on reflection it is clear that it is inappropriate to make a diagnosis of a personality disorder merely because of the presence of certain typical personality traits which cause no subjective distress or impairment in social functioning. Clearly homosexuality, per se, does not meet the requirements for a psychiatric disorder since, as noted above, many homosexuals are quite satisfied with their sexual orientation and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness or functioning.

The only way that homosexuality could therefore be considered a psychiatric disorder would be the criteria of failure to function heterosexually, which is considered optimal in our society and by many members of our profession. However, if failure to function optimally in some important area of life as judged by either society or the profession is sufficient to indicate the presence of a psychiatric disorder, then we will have to add to our nomenclature the following conditions: celibacy (failure to function optimally sexually), revolutionary behavior (irrational defiance of social norms), religious fanaticism (dogmatic and rigid adherence to religious doctrine), racism (irrational hatred of certain groups), vegetarianism (unnatural avoidance of carnivorous behavior), and male chauvinism (irrational belief in the inferiority of women).

The New York Times alerted the world with this Page One announcement:

The American Psychiatric Association, altering a position it has held for nearly a century, decided today that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. The board of trustees of the 20,000 member organization approved a resolution that said in part, “by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder.” Persons who are troubled by their homosexuality, the trustees said, will be classified as having a “sexual orientation disturbance” should they come to a psychiatrist for help.

The full APA would go on to ratify the policy statement on April 9, 1974. But attempts to cure homosexuality would continue under a new illness inserted into the DSM as a compromise in 1974. Sexual Orientation Disturbance (SOD) defined homosexuality as an illness if an individual with same sex attractions found those attractions distressing and wanted to change. The new diagnosis served the purpose of legitimizing the practice of sexual conversion therapies, even if homosexuality per se was no longer considered an illness. The SOD diagnosis also allowed for the unlikely possibility that a person unhappy about a heterosexual orientation could seek treatment to become gay. Reflecting the realities of clinical practice, 1980’s DSM-III changed SOD to “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality” (EDH). That diagnosis was finally removed in 1987, but resurfaced as a brief mention under “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”, which describes persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation.

Update: The last paragraph describing subsequent diagnoses was revised and clarified, with thanks to Dr. Jack Drescher.

The Psychological Harm of Anti-Gay Ballot Campaigns

Gregory Herek

December 3rd, 2008

If you’ve been experiencing post-election psychological distress in the wake of the recent antigay ballot campaigns ­– whether in the form of anger, sadness, irritability, feelings of betrayal, revenge fantasies, sleep difficulties, or something else ­– research suggests you’re not alone. What you’re feeling these days is a natural and normal response to the attacks you endured during the months leading up to November 4, and to the trauma of election night.

In my latest post at Beyond Homophobia, I describe the results of two studies on the psychological impact of antigay ballot measures.

One study was conducted by psychologist Glenda Russell and her colleagues in the wake of Colorado’s 1992 Amendment 2 campaign. Examining personal accounts by sexual minority Colorado citizens, the researchers observed themes that are all too familiar today to many sexual minority residents of California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.

Respondents reported feeling overwhelmed or devastated by the vote. Some were shocked that the measure passed. Many experienced anger, fear, sadness, or depression. Some felt a sense of loss, saying they would never again feel the same about living in Colorado. Some expressed regret at not having done more to prevent the measure’s passage.

Dr. Russell’s team also found that a substantial segment of the sample reported many symptoms commonly associated with depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and perceived that these symptoms were a direct result of having lived through the months of antigay campaigning.

The second study, which will soon be published in the prestigious Journal of Counseling Psychology, supports and extends Dr. Russell’s findings. The researchers — led by Dr. Sharon Rostosky at the University of Kentucky — assessed the psychological well-being of sexual minority adults across the United States before and after the 2006 elections. They found that, as a group, participants residing in states with a marriage amendment on the ballot reported experiencing significantly more psychological distress than did the residents of other states. Moreover, their levels of stress, negative emotions, and symptoms of depression were significantly higher after the election compared to six months earlier.

Taken together, the studies’ findings are consistent with the conclusion that antigay campaigns not only take away individuals’ rights, but are also harmful to the mental health of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who live through them.

You can read more about the studies and the implications of their findings at Beyond Homophobia.


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