Depression & substance use in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community: a case of hidden harm

Publish Date: 09/10/2012


The interrelationship between depression and substance use is well documented with studies showing not only that substance abuse can cause depression but that depression can itself lead to a person misusing drugs and alcohol. While these issues are not specific to any particular group, relative to the wider population statistics show that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people experience depression and suicidal thoughts more frequently and are more likely to drink alcohol or take drugs.

A 2008 review of mental disorders in the BMC Psychiatry journal suggests that LGB people are two to three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to suffer from depression. Attributable factors include institutionalised prejudice, social exclusion, hate crime, internalised homophobia, as well as lifestyle factors such as alcohol and drug misuse. A 2009 study of the Brighton LGB&T community shows that the link between drugs and suicidal thoughts is especially alarming with 2 in 5 LGB&T drug users experiencing suicidal thoughts compared to 14% of non-users.

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation’s Part of the Picture 2009-11 Report into substance use amongst the LGB population of England concludes that ‘LGB people are not only more likely to take drugs and/or binge drink alcohol compared to the wider population; they seem more likely to be dependent on these substances.’ Indeed, figures from this survey of over 4,000 LGB people show that binge drinking is around two times more common amongst LGB people; drug use is seven times higher; and over a fifth of the sample scored as dependent on a substance when using DSM IV screening questions for substance dependence.

These statistics show a high level of harm within the LGB community. Alarmingly, the Part of the Picture 2009-11 Report also highlights that LGB people don’t always seek the help they need for substance use issues due to fear of stigma, personal embarrassment and worries about homophobia; the exact concerns that can cause depression. The need to understand and address the specific factors that lead LGB people to experience depression or substance use issues is imperative in light of the higher rates of suicide amongst this group. The Lesbian & Gay Foundation have compiled an action plan of recommendations for those working in the drugs and alcohol field in order that services can proactively meet the needs of LGB substance users and in the process help lower rates of depression amongst this group.

For a copy of the Part of the Picture 2009-11 Report and the action plan please visit: